When Two People Decide to Live Together and Combine Their Bookshelves

Alexander Chee has a delightful essay in the Morning News about the way we view our personal libraries and what happens to our books when we attempt to combine our bookshelves with our partners:

One of the funniest and most interesting questions you can ask a group of couples at a party is whether or not they have combined their bookshelves.

I discovered this once I began asking it, looking for advice from others who might have done this. Most often, thus far, in my highly selective, completely unscientific research, the answer is no. Reasons get thrown around, and one is common. “I told her,” a friend said, who had just completed this process, “‘That stack of doubles by the entrance, that you will not get rid of, that is your doubt about our long-term future.’” He laughed as he said this.

Doubles, inside this world of library marriages, is the seemingly easy problem of when each member of the couple has one copy of the same book. But as I laughed at my friend’s remark, I remembered, uneasily, that I own doubles, sometimes triples, of some books, without even including Dustin’s books.

There was a period of two years in the ‘90s when I moved pretty constantly between sublets here in New York. I put my books in storage so I wouldn’t have to move them every few months. When I missed them, I would go to my storage space and visit them. It felt a little like they were in jail, though it was me who’d done something wrong—I hadn’t found them a permanent home. Soon I found myself in used bookstores, buying what I called “reading copies” of favorites.

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