blog Reading & Writing

How many books do you keep in your house?

Of Bibliophiles and their private libraries

“How many books do you keep in your house,” asked my uncle as he scratched his chin while gazing at one of the bookshelves in my personal library. I replied, “I don’t know, I never counted them”.

Now I don’t remember exactly when I developed bibliophilic tendencies, but his question piqued an interest in me.

Until yesterday, I literally had no clue how many books there were in my house. So I decided to undertake the tedious task of cataloging my personal library.

my personal library
A part of my personal library

It turns out I have 307 books, of which 286 are business and management books and rest are fiction. Most of the books reside in two bookshelves and a few in a newly built book almirah. These are the books that I’ve deliberately collected, the books I’ve kept because I just love them. 

Our personal libraries reflect the history of our intellectual journey. Over time, they become an inextricable part of our individuality.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said,

If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” 

It’s generally believed that you are a bibliophile if you own more than a thousand books. Clearly, I am not even close to claiming that badge. However, there are many people around the world who own envy-inducing private libraries – the intellectual havens, so to say. 

Umberto Eco, the late legendary Italian author, is known to have left behind a vast collection of books in his personal library. In “This is not the end of the book“, he declared that he had over 50,000 books in his library. Yes, no typos there.

Watch Umberto Eco walk through labyrinth of books in his private library

If you think the Italian literary maestro was zany, then you certainly haven’t heard of Professor Richard Macksey of John Hopkins University. Prof Macksey’s Maryland home is a giant Bibliotheque comprising jaw-dropping 70,000 books.

There are books practically everywhere from his bedroom to his kitchen. In his library, he has a collection of incunabula, manuscripts and many first editions, counting from Proust to Henry James. In short, Prof Macksey is a true renaissance man. 

Prof Macksey in his personal library
Prof Macksey in his expansive private library
Prof Macksey in his personal library
Prof Macksey’s library gives an impression that he has a Tsundoku problem

Many successful business people love reading and collecting books, too. One such famous bibliophile is Jay Walker. He is the founder of Priceline.com – one of the biggest travel companies in the world. But his worldwide fame may be due not to his business alone. 

Built as a part of his house, his incredible 3600-square-feet library houses 30,000 books in addition to several artifacts, rare books and even a host of antique typewriters. 

Jay Walker’s marvelous private library

Curiously, academicians and entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones obsessed with collecting books, lots of movie stars and celebrities are book hoarders, too.

Nigella Lawson, the famous British television personality, gourmet and food writer apparently owns 6000 books, mostly cookery books. 

Oscar award-winning actress Diane Keaton owns a vast number of photography and architecture books. Those are the core elements of her Spanish colonial revival-style mansion. 

These people and their illustrious collections can overwhelm anyone. However, allow me to puncture your enthusiasm a little. There is a good chance that many books lie unread in those libraries.

Mathematically,  the number of unread books in your personal library sits in direct proportion to the total number of books. 

And on that note, I’m off to organize a shelf or two of books and see if any old friends need a re-visiting. Do share how many books in the box below you keep in your house. 


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2 comments

  1. Thank you for this post! I think it’s one of the happiest posts I’ve ever seen, and also so funny. The math is spectacular; also the Japanese terminology. Thank you for this—you just drove my Sunday night blues away!

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