“Entering our library should feel like easing into a hot tub, strolling into a magic store, emerging into the orchestra pit, or entering a chamber of curiosities, the club, the circus, our cabin on an outbound yacht, the house of an old friend,” he writes. “It is a setting forth, and it is a coming back to center.”
Mr. Byers coined a term — “book-wrapt” — to describe the exhilarating comfort of a well-stocked library. The fusty spelling is no affectation, but an efficient packing of meaning into a tight space (which, when you think of it, also describes many libraries). To be surrounded by books is to be held rapt in an enchanted circle and to experience the rapture of being transported to other worlds.
So how many books does it take to feel book-wrapt? Mr. Byers cited a common belief that 1,000 is the minimum in any self-respecting home library. Then he quickly divided that number in half. Five hundred books ensure that a room “will begin to feel like a library,” he said. And even that number is negotiable. The library he kept at the end of his bunk on an aircraft carrier in Vietnam, he said, was “very highly valued, though it probably didn’t have 30 books in it.”
“What’s five times 40?” Alice Waters, the chef and food activist, recently asked. (The question was rhetorical.) “Two hundred, 400, 600, 800,” she calculated, apparently scanning the bookcases around her and adding up their contents (she was speaking on the phone). “And then probably another 800,” she said, referring to other rooms in her Berkeley, Calif., bungalow.
Yes, Ms. Waters, 77, who opened a new restaurant in Los Angeles called Lulu last month, is officially book-wrapt. She owns hundreds of cookbooks organized by cuisine, as well as volumes on farming, nutrition, education, environmental calamity, victory gardens, chef memoirs, French gastronomic terminology, art, architecture, design and fiction. The author of more than a dozen of her own books, she recently published “We Are What We Eat: A Slow Food Manifesto,” written with Bob Carrau and Cristina Mueller.