Home is where

Shelfie, Oxfam bookshop, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

“A House is Not a Home…” goes the song by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, and I think we can all agree with that. I’m sure that many of you have been in the position of having a few or even several abodes in your lifetime. Did all of them feel like home at the time?

What is it that makes a house a home? The lyrics of that song were clear: a house is not a home “when there’s no one there to hold you tight.” This is corroborated by the common saying that home is where the heart is, implying that this is where loved ones still live or even where one’s fondest memories reside. I think it’s impossible to underestimate the emotional pull that ‘home’ has over a mere dwelling place — think of a building and its associations are bound up with its actuality.

I’m occasionally asked where home is for me, and my stock response has usually been it’s here, where we live now. Certainly the four different properties we’ve lived in as owner-occupiers — where we raised a family, or worked from, or retired to — felt like, or still feels like, home at the time we were/are there.

But increasingly I find it’s not as complete an answer as I’ve glibly trotted out.

When I visit other people’s homes it’s usually apparent early on whether the occupiers feel it’s home sweet home. And of course we make judgements, don’t we? About the furniture, décor, style, tidiness: Ooh, I wouldn’t have gone for that colour, that wallpaper, that arrangement; or maybe, I could fit in very comfortably here. And what do I instinctively look out for? Books.

Yes, books are how I often judge other people. Is that shallow? They may have radically different tastes where style is concerned but if I see shelves full of books, or a room dedicated to books (perhaps even one designated as ‘the library’) then there for me is a strong criterion for a home. Admittedly, I’ve always had books — living with parents, alone as a student, married with a family — and there have always been shelves for my/our books. And if there wasn’t adequate shelving in place we built it: homes for fiction, text books, music scores, picture books, files, reference books, note books…

I can’t imagine living anywhere where there wasn’t accessible space for reading matter, not just any reading matter but the ones I’ve accumulated over a lifetime. Familiar friends, concept banks, comfort zones, mental stimulation, challenges, aesthetic wall-covering — if I didn’t have books I think I’d feel lobotomised.

But where is the heart in all this? The place and time when I “call your name | And suddenly your face appears”?

Well, that question is simply answered: the best beloved also needs books, she treasures them the same way, even shares a fondness for many of the same titles I do. We both have books in every room, and the darn things are a part of both our lives — it won’t surprise you to learn that we first met in a public library.

For us, then, our house has always been our home because that’s not only where our other half is, it’s where our books are too.

How is it for you? Is home where the heart is or is it where the books reside? Or both? Or neither? Are books a big part of your life, an aspect of who you are, do they help determine your personality? Do you feel bereft without books or are they the last thing you’d save from a burning house?

54 thoughts on “Home is where

  1. I will answer your question with another song as I am a “Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home” sort of person. The point is where I usually feel like laying my hat and why. The sea is a must. To me it is just like the air I need for breathing, nevertheless all the years I spent in London I felt like being at home, strange, isn’t it? Of course, whenever I had the chance I went to some seaside resorts in the South even for few hours, just to listen to the sound of the backwash, watch the waves and breathe the salty air.

    Books have always been the dominant characteristic of any house I lived in. You can find them in any room (there is even a special shelf in the toilet) and, of course, in case of a fire I would take with me are……………my shoes and my bags!!!!😜🙋

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    1. Interesting what you say about the sea, Stefy: my best beloved always had a yearning to be near the sea, which was great when we lived somewhere where a ten or fifteen mile journey gave us access to a good dozen decent beaches to north, south and west. Now that we’re more inland but closer to extended family she seems to be less anxious to see the sea on a regular basis. Myself, I can’t do without mountains, or at least big hills to look out at! But there’s nothing as simultaneously invigorating and soporific as the sounds and sights and scents of seaside waves, as you’ve pointed out!

      Books in the toilet are a no-no with us, but are to be found everywhere else, as with you. Shoes and bags? Hmm, best beloved may be conflicted in that situation… 😁

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    1. Some people are really confused by seeing books in profusion in other people’s houses: my late father-in-law creased his brow on seeing my shelves in particular, enquiring whether I’d bought them at jumble sales as ‘job lots’. I was equally confused as each book had been individually chosen: what kind of mentality would buy books in bulk just to impress visitors?

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    1. An empty shelf is anathema to me too — it’s like a child shivering from the cold, one I want to advise to wrap up warm instead of coping with a thin t-shirt!


  2. Interesting thoughts. Books are certainly an important part of what makes a house a home to me. Indeed, whenever I’m staying more than a few night somewhere I tend to place whatever books I have with me in a visible place to make the place fell more like home.

    On the other hand I also tend to feel at home in tents with hardly any books around me. There the knowledge that I will stay warm and dry and comfortable is all I need to feel at home, whereas I require much more of ordinary houses.

    Perhaps home to me is a place were I can always be sure to have the comfort I need but might not get elsewhere, whether that is a good book or simply a shelter. In normal houses I don’t usually doubt that I will stay dry and warm and thus books are my most urgent need, whereas in more remote setting I’m fine with a tent, a sleeping bag and, of course, my trusty e-reader…

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    1. An e-reader in a tent, an excellent solution, often with its own built-in light! But in a hotel, holiday home or a friend’s guest bedroom I definitely want my books brought from home to hand — plus any extra acquired in a local bookshop!

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  3. Oh my…’And what do I instinctively look out for? Books.’ The number of times I have said exactly this to friends….because I have been into homes with NO BOOKS…… Lobotomised is the word, Chris!

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    1. Some people restrict their books to a room which you may never be shown, Sue, like a spare bedroom or a converted loft, but ban them from living rooms where guests may usually be shepherded into. I find that a curious and unthinkable practice!

      Also, books tell you so much more about new acquaintances — their interests, beliefs and attitudes — than they be prepared to reveal in an after dinner conversation or over a casual drop-in for coffee… 😁

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        1. I have a notion that someone in a Sherlock Holmes book — maybe the Great Detective himself — said he only ever needed one book on his shelf and that was a Bradshaw’s railway timetable; everything else he could consult in a library. Nowadays only Michael Portillo consults a century-old Bradshaw and libraries are an endangered species — progress, eh!

          Liked by 1 person

      1. I have all my non-fiction in the bookcases in the living room and all my fiction in the bookcases in my bedroom. This is just a practical divide since I tend to read equal amounts of both, but more fiction in bed, and more non-fiction during the day. It works but I had a teacher friend visit the other day, an English teacher, who loves books as much as me, and she was worried that I didn’t read any fiction. I let her look in the bedroom to calm her down.

        I also look at people’s books when I see them. It used to be just when visiting their houses, but now I find myself freezing Youtube so I can read what they’ve got on their shelves. When we have books in common I feel so much closer to them. However, even when the books are as different as can be, as with me and my English teacher friend, just knowing the other person really loves books still makes a big difference somehow. I wonder if there is a particular mindset which comes with “book people” and that is what I relate to?

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  4. I agree, Chris, home is both where our heart is and where our books are. We are both readers and our home is filled with bookshelves. We even have 2 bookshelves in the hallway! Books are very much a part of our lives as well. But, what makes our house a home is the life we share– which includes a shared love of books!

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    1. As I write replies to all the kind people like you who have commented, BJ, I’m aware that what I’m describing is very much a so-called First World problem, when there are so many unfortunates without the staples in life or even a home, let alone one to put books out on display.

      But I console myself thinking that readers, especially those who read widely, are more often those who consider the plight of others because they’ve informed themselves, and hopefully more inclined to do something, however small, to make the world as a whole a better place than to merely feather their own nests, as we read of some politicians doing.

      And if education is the key to improving things books are an important component of that toolbox, are they not? 🙂

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      1. Your right about First World problems. There are too many people who struggle to have just the basics– let alone books! They are so important though. Books open our eyes to the world around us and to the experiences of others. They allow us to see another perspective and to grow. And in the process we look for ways to help others and make a difference.

        That said, I know that both readers and non-readers make a difference in the lives of others. But, I do agree that books are an important part of the educational process. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. We hear of so many “less developed” countries where the notion of universal education is valued, along with books and learning, even though resources may be limited and class sizes huge; but it seems we more ‘civilised’ nations see education as a commodity and the individual as a mere consumer and cog in the economic machine.

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          1. It shouldn’t be out of reach to get an education, but if we have access to books we have access to an education. Public libraries are wonderful resources to their communities in so many ways and they also offer online classes for anyone interested.

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          2. Absolutely. Plus, I think arts are higher up the ‘needs’ list than many think. Physically we think we don’t need them – they don’t keep us warm or fed – but maybe they actually do help us physically as well as mentally, because mental well-being contributes to physical health. I find it interesting that cave paintings suggest our ancestors made time for art even in a pretty rough environment – basic dwellings, predators at the door, food needing to be hunted out.


    1. I do acknowledge that, KIA, or at least I hope I make that clear in my post — unless of course one is a hermit, or lacks an immediate family for a range of reasons, or lives and works abroad, in which case home is what you make of it. But I did ask what readers regarded as home, didn’t I! Tell me, though, do books also feature in your home? If manners maketh the man do books furnish your abode? 🙂


      1. KIA

        Since we haven’t had TV in our home for 5yrs, we do a lot of reading. Two bookshelves full in the front room, two in the hall, four in the back room. Yup. Books allow us to experience and learn about any place or anytime in the world and history. Worlds of Word Worth.

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  5. Home must also have, in my opinion, a good, comfortable chair and ottoman with a good reading lamp (nothing too bright or flourescent, preferably a classic soft white bulb). And of course an end table, on your favorite side, on which to set a drink and the chocolates, of course.

    And it doesn’t hurt to have friends and family stopping by at all hours to visit!

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  6. You met in a public library….now that is romantic ❤

    When I first walked into this house and saw the floor to ceiling built-in bookshelves in the living room, my dream had come true! And while I had to add some freestanding bookshelves, my next dream is to extend the built-in into the adjoining wall to wrap it around.

    I love that when people walk in to my house these bookshelves and their contents greet them. Talk, at some point, always turns to books 🙂

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    1. This year marks 47 years she first stepped into my life coming to work in the library where I’d been seconded one day a week, and I remember the moment like it was yesterday. ♥

      How delightful to have inbuilt shelves waiting for you in a new home! And how wonderful when your plan for wrap-around shelves comes to fruition, like a virtual comfort blanket. I am a bit intimidated by old libraries with their serried ranks of uniform editions in multiple rows, much enjoying the variety you get with colourful covers and mismatched sizes — I suppose it’s the individualistic streak in me! 🙂


  7. Yep, we need lots of books in our house (though I’d rank the actual family members as more important 😉 ), and only the bathrooms do not have books. I am often envious and incredulous when visiting friends with lovely built-in shelving….which then may well be filled with photos and knick-knacks and just a few books! Most of them do have SOME books. And I’ll admit that my ideas of what constitutes a reasonable number of books is possibly a little unusual. But still, books are what makes a house friendly. Also quilts. Quilts are good too.

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    1. Totally agree that homes need books. I remember wondering why the house I babysat at disturbed me slightly – then I realised it had no books! But music too. My husband and I have a bargain – he won’t moan about my books if I don’t moan about his CDs and records. We went out to New Zealand for a year and took one big rucksack and one small one as our entire luggage. But we weren’t there long before we bought a box of books from the local junkshop to fill the one shelf, and a little cassette player with some cassettes. At our last house (back in the UK) we had all the books in the hall – a nice long wall space – and this bewildered most of our visitors. Not my friend from uni though – he thinks the collection paltry! In our current house I am delighted to have a fireplace because now I can have shelves either side of it like in country houses.


      1. My BIL and SIL have built-in bookshelves all along their hall, which is quite enviable, except that it makes the hall very narrow. (By “built-in” I mean that the former owners installed them. It’s one of those houses that started off teeny and got built on to in various creative ways by a large family.)

        How fortunate you were to spend a whole year in NZ! That sounds fantastic.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. We were fortunate indeed, Jean, and it was a wonderful year. I have to confess that I meant to write a general reply to Chris’s post and accidentally put it in the space for replying to you! Not that I have any objection to talking to you, just that I am new to WordPress and got a bit lost! Sorry!

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      2. Fireplace + bookshelves = cosy luxury to my mind! Sadly not possible in our current home but then you can’t have everything! But that capacity of books to breed (as it seems) is a common feature of bibliophile libraries, the digits that turn pages being the equivalent of the gardener’s green fingers!

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    2. I’m not a great fan of books in toilets but I have been known to read in a nice warm bath (it can be uncomfortable and awkward but worth it for a good read). And bookshelves should primarily be filled with books, in my view, though the odd photo and knick knack may be allowed some house room there!

      I suppose rugs and select cushions come into the same category as quilts?! The former are more to my taste but maybe quiltwork could become a thing!


      1. Is rugs British-speak for blankets? Blankets and cushions are good. I like quilts because they are handmade. Half our couch pillows are too. Yep, Jane Austen’s patchwork is on display at Chawton; I was utterly thrilled to be able to visit and see it — it’s extra exciting to see a favorite writer’s handwork. I even got to talk with the resident patchwork expert for half an hour!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. No, rugs are small carpets, particularly warm ones, ideally ‘Persian’ but any floor covering.

          I envy you your visit to Chawton, but then I came late to JA — I’ve passed close by there in the past but Jane wasn’t on my radar at the time…


  8. MrsB_inthehills

    Someone I worked with a very long time ago was of the opinion that a house wasn’t a home unless it possessed a sewing machine and a piano. The sewing machine I have, but sadly not the piano. Plenty of books (though nowhere near the amount you have, I’m sure!) – and many of them old favourites. My youngest daughter fell in love with ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ when she was about 16, but lent it to a friend whilst on a school expedition and it was lost. As soon as she got home she set about replacing it but refused to buy a brand new copy; she wanted one that had already been loved and so bought herself a second-hand copy. I know what she means!

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    1. Well, we have the piano but no sewing machine, so that balances out. 😁

      I too approve of your daughter going for a secondhand replacement copy, Helen! And I also enjoyed ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ and though I had a pre-loved copy I admit did pass it on.


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