Our Selves in our Libraries

Version 2
Too much?

It’s a dream of mine to have a library. I would have shelves on three walls, some open and some with glass doors. The fourth wall would have a big, beautiful window overlooking something lovely, with a comfortable desk and chair facing outward to capture the view.

In the center of the room, I’d have a wooden table big enough to spread out books and papers and enough chairs for several of us to gather ’round. To one side would be a dictionary stand with a shelf of atlases, and near it would be a beautiful, lighted globe of the world.

cozy chair
I’d have the comfiest chair ever.

Mine wouldn’t be a dark, somber place; it would be cheery and bright, with books and memorabilia fairly calling out for attention. In a cozy corner,  I’d have the comfiest chair ever, with perfect lighting and a side table for drinks and snacks.

Actually, I already have a library–as in, the books. I have shelf after sagging shelf of them, arranged by subject and type.

Many are books from my life as a university professor: motor learning and control, human factors, exercise physiology, health and wellness, anatomical kinesiology… Thirty years of ideas and efforts were supported by those books, as dear to me as Emilie Loring. I kept all of my grade-books, too–each student, each graded assignment, important as only another teacher would understand.


Nearby are special books from my own college years: a comprehensive volume of Shakespeare, my Master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation, my father’s Reference Handbook on the Deserts of North America, and favorite books from history and English classes.

Special books
Well-loved volumes

Some are books from my deep dive into gardening. With their guidance, I created garden paths, garden “rooms,” a putting green, strawberry bed, lilies down one side, lavender on another, twenty-six roses, and a wall of morning glories. I planted a mound called “Lilac Hill,” a huge perennial garden that shaded in colors just like the ones in Emilie Loring’s books, and a children’s garden with snapdragons that held tiny notes and artemesia that they petted like a cat.


I have cookbooks galore, craft books, decorating books, relationship books, and volumes on spirituality of many types.


The fiction shelves start with the most-worn books of my childhood,Raggedy Ann bookends

and books I read with my children.

kids' books
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…”

They keep going with volumes I picked up for so many different reasons from so many different places–volumes that meant something to me and, therefore, stayed.

classic fiction
My sister and I cried and cried over Mrs. Mike.

You can learn a lot about a person by looking at their library. Mine, I think, says “curiosity.” I have the Little House books, but I also have five books about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the real Ingalls family. (Did you know that Laura Ingalls Wilder and Emilie Loring were born only five months apart?)


I read all of Elizabeth Peters’ novels (several times!) about turn-of-the-century archaeologists Amelia Peabody and her husband, Emerson, and then read more books about Egyptology, attended museum exhibits, and collected associated souvenirs. Elizabeth Peters

If you ask, I can help you with resources on weather lore, embroidery techniques, Middle English dialects, and sea glass identification. I can help you find words in German and Swedish and bake traditional Swedish cookies to go along with them.


I suppose it was natural, then, that with Emilie Loring my curiosity would run wide and deep! I collected the books and stories she wrote and filled many notebooks with original research from books, newspapers, and documents held in New England archives.


Over time, I acquired my own, small set of reference books. I wanted to understand Boston, so I collected books of Boston maps, photographs, and history.Boston books

I wanted to understand customs of her times and her family’s, so I bought books about seamanship, wardrobes, Gilded Age Boston, and World War I. books on the times

I bought the history of her father’s publishing company, Lee and Shepard, and I found the autobiography of George Baker’s comedic partner, Henry Clay Barnabee.George Baker connections

I bought stories about the summer residents of Blue Hill, Maine and biographical sketches of the Boston Authors Club.

Blue Hill and BAC
Blue Hill and Boston Authors Club books

Because Clara Endicott Sears and Sara Ware Bassett were special friends, I bought Clara’s biography, read Sara Ware’s autobiography at her archives, and collected several of the books that they wrote. These were books that Emilie Loring read, too, and that’s how I crossed over from my library to Emilie’s.

“These were books that Emilie Loring read, too.”

After all, if you want to know Emilie Loring better, read what she read.

“I didn’t dare start unpacking those for fear one might open and I would stop to read a page or two.  I’m a book addict.” Hilltops Clear

From her childhood are books by her father, George Baker, and his good friend, the children’s author, Oliver Optic


There are books and authors she mentions in her novels

At right and left of the fireplace rose tier upon tier of books. On one side was her grandfather’s library. Sets of Dickens, Thackeray, Macaulay, Irving, Parkman. She smiled as her eyes rested on the Cadell edition of Scott. How she had revelled in the stories in those small volumes.  Swift Water

EL favorites
Charles Dickens, Pilgrim’s Progress (Bunyan), Sir Walter Scott

and a book that she reviewed for the newspaper column that was her first, professional writing.

“Oh, it’s all so lovely I have to pinch myself to know it’s true,” sighed Anna.

More personally, there are two books written by her younger son, Selden,

by Selden Loring
Books by Selden M. Loring

and books that were in her library at Stone House (Thank you, Bob Slaven!).


I love it that Emilie Loring signed a book with her initials and the date she finished reading it. I wish I had done that with my books over the years. I wonder how long she kept that up? How many of her books do you suppose are out there, sitting in a used book-shop, with that little record of history in them?

I used to tell my students that nothing is more personal than what we choose to put into our own brains. Our libraries are just that–what we choose to put into our own brains and  keep there. They aren’t the full content, but they are placeholders, little reminders of the many ideas and interests we have across a lifetime. I still feel close to my dad when I look at the shelves of books that were his, and standing next to my own gives me a rush of memories.

My book
We do love our books.

It will be nice when I have my library room some day, but the real value is in the books, and I already have those.

Give me a book

Happy reading, everyone!






10 thoughts on “Our Selves in our Libraries

  1. I had plans to write a whole blog post response to this, but it petered out. But I love how it’s ‘you’ in your library. What makes you you. And like you said, curiosity. A friend met my parents the other day and she wasn’t surprised when my mother told her that I was taught to research when my parent’s homeschooled me. The books I have for research purposes! From everything I’m interested in. LIke you have your books that Emilie Loring read to all about the area, the life and even books she noted in, contribute so much to research. I love the wide variety you have. Currently my most used ‘research’ books are my poetry book collection. I finally alphabetized the poets by author and found I had double what I thought!

    If I could have my own library it would be huge and arranged with non fiction books in the dewey decimal system. Then by author, especially for fiction. Oh the ideas I have, and currently not enough space to put it all. I can dream. I might get around to a post on my own library but currently it’s tucked into several rooms, cupboards, my parent’s rooms, boxes in storage and stacked most inappropriately.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a nice comment! Thank you. I’ve often thought that a “formal living room” would be well-used as a library—shelves all around, big table in the center that could do double duty for both research and dining, specialized lighting… I would need “museum” space as well, for artworks and special objects I’ve collected through the years. I hope you get your library. Start small and keep going!


      1. Oh gosh, wouldn’t that be a lovely space? With that big table like you said? If you have ever seen the film Inkheart, there is part of a big library that is showcased. Yes, that would be my ideal space. And definitely a glass door-ed ‘museum’ space that could hold the special things. Objects d’art and such. Oh the sad part is I’m far from small. I’m just short shelf space, and room for shelves! Oh just dreaming of shelves. I need to hunt down a ‘beast’. Marry the Beast, get the library and all that.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Patti! I have five bookshelves and they are cluttered with favorites and one is a TBR. I have pictures and cards and other odds and ends stuck around the books too. I like a good chair with an ottoman to put my feet on when I’m reading. But I’m happy reading everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I used to read in bed but rarely do anymore. As a kid, I read in the bathtub and added more “hot” when the water cooled down. It seems a little boring that I just read in chairs now. 😊


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