Of course I remember that most of my father’s friends are English Ph.D.’s, but only when I find their libraries do I understand how this separates them from ordinary folk. The house I’ve been staying at in Santa Fe this past week has a remarkable library - at once personal and comprehensive, fashionable and outdated.
Dozens of NYTimes “Notable” books from the last decade. Prize winners galore. Canonical works - some of waining and some of waxing reputations. There are 10 shelving units in all (three pictured) - one devoted to baseball books, one to theatrical works, five to novels, two to nonfiction, and one to publications. An entire shelf of Icelandic fiction. One book of French poetry and no French novels. The complete Delillo inexplicably spread out over three different shelves. Some Shakespeare in the theater section but most (at least the things you rarely see performed) on the fiction shelves. Dombey & Son and Our Mutual Friend but no Bleak House or Hard Times. The last three Harry Potter novels only, sharing shelf space with Mason & Dixon and Underworld.
This is one more component of traveling that many of my previous trips have lacked, in rented houses or sleeping outdoors; sharing another’s predilections for reading is like sharing in his or her intimate understanding of the world. There are no tickets to such places. I’ve always been incredibly fortune that my old man has friends at all - that they have libraries like these makes him look better.
The feeling of delving into something I’ve never read is enhanced by the fact that a good number of the contemporary works are signed. I have been taking books out to the desert every morning. It has become increasingly difficult to keep track of the days of the week and focus on my obligations to the world.