Thoughts on Combining Personal Libraries

I just came across this excellent article by Alexander Chee (whose novel Edinburgh is fantastic, incidentally) about the issue of combining libraries when one moves in with a new romantic partner. This is a topic that I have thought a lot about over the years, and especially in the past few as I’ve gone through a divorce. My ex-wife and I combined our books on the shelves according to the classification system that I used for my books, which meant that sometimes she would have to ask me where one of her books was located. In other words, despite being combined, it never really felt like a shared library, but rather a situation in which I was graciously letting her books hang out with mine, and perhaps that is a symbol of why the relationship ultimately failed.

As I’ve been thinking about what I would like my future romantic relationships to be like, I’ve decided that were I to live with another person I would keep my library separate from theirs. On the surface, this may sound selfish or like I am incapable of a full commitment, but Chee eloquently explains why this is not the case, and why it is acceptable for each partner to keep their own copies of books that they have in common. He writes that

“When each of you owns one copy of a book, it does seem particularly problematic, as if the two of you should only have one copy of it. On the surface that seems to make sense. But the thought of selling my copy makes me feel a phantom pain, but from a future phantom limb—the literary equivalent of a premonition of amputation. I can only conclude I want my own copy not because I don’t feel sufficiently attached to the person I live with, but because I want to feel sufficiently attached to myself. …

“You don’t keep the doubles because you believe you may not stay together. You keep the doubles because the one you own, that’s your friend [Chee’s italics]. The one he owns, that’s his. To only have one, it would be like sharing an email address.

“Not everything can be shared. And that isn’t a crisis. It’s how it should be.”

I have previously written about how my books feel like they are a part of me because they are a physical documentation of my history. I appreciate how Chee acknowledges that this is the case for everyone who loves books. His naming of books as “friends” is spot on.

Published by danielshankcruz

I grew up in New York City and lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Goshen, Indiana; DeKalb, Illinois; and Salt Lake City, Utah before coming to Utica, New York. My mother’s family is Swiss-German Mennonite (i.e., it’s an ethnicity, not necessarily a theological persuasion) and my father’s family is Puerto Rican. I have a Ph.D. in English and currently teach at Utica College. I have also taught at Northern Illinois University and Westminster College in Salt Lake City. My teaching and scholarship are motivated by a passion for social justice, which is why my research focuses on the literature of oppressed groups, especially LGBT persons and people of color. While I primarily read and write about fiction, I am also a devoted reader of poetry because, as William Carlos Williams writes, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet [people] die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” Thinkers who influence me include Marina Abramovic, Kathy Acker, Di Brandt, Ana Castillo, Samuel R. Delany, Percival Everett, Essex Hemphill, Jane Jacobs, Walt Whitman, and the New York School of poets. I am also fond of queer Mennonite writers such as Stephen Beachy, Jan Guenther Braun, Lynnette Dueck/D’anna, and Casey Plett. In my free time I’m either reading, writing the occasional poem, playing board games (especially Scrabble, backgammon, and chess), watching sports (Let’s Go, Mets!), or cooking (curries, stews, roasts…).

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