Jane Green: “A Home Should Always Have Books”

The world knows Jane Green as a wonderful author. Her books have sold over 10 million copies, and been translated into more than 30 languages.

Westporters know Jane Green as our neighbor.

It’s in that role that we love a story from last week’s Washington Post Magazine. In a series of interviews, writers talked about what books meant to them — and to their homes.

Jane described her life with her husband Ian Warburg on Owenoke — and gave a great shout-out to her fantastic mobile library project, modeled on the Remarkable Book Shop.

She says: 

I’ve run out of space. Books are starting to get stacked up on the floor, underneath tables, underneath chairs, on top of tables. They’re everywhere. With no more room on the bookshelves, I’ve been eyeing this gorgeous French armoire that takes up an entire wall. That wall is just perfect for shelves and would make the room warmer. I know, however, that my husband really likes the armoire. He sees: storage, storage, storage. I see: books, books, books. We’ll see who wins.

For years, I couldn’t get rid of anything. I have had to learn to manage the flow. Paperbacks I tend not to keep unless I love them and know I’m going to reread them. Hardcovers are really hard for me to get rid of. They all signify a time in my life. They all have stories around the stories. I will sometimes just stand there and look at my books and remember.

Jane Green, at home in Westport. (Photo/Chris Sorensen for Washington Post)

The first place I go in someone’s house is their bookshelves. You can tell exactly who they are.

I used to do something that I now realize was a bit creepy. After my first book was published and very successful, I was looking for a flat in London. Almost every flat I went into had my book on the shelf. I’d take it down and sign it! Sometimes, I even personalized it: “To Julia, with love, Jane Green.” I’ve never heard from anyone, but if they ever come across that, they’ll likely freak out.

They all signify a time in my life. They all have stories around the stories. I will sometimes just stand there and look at my books and remember.
Last summer, I started a little mobile library called the Remarkable Bookcycle. For 35 years, there was a bright pink bookstore in my town called Remarkable Book Shop. We had this cargo tricycle just sitting in our garage. I paid a high school student to turn it into a mobile free library. We cycle it around the beach in summer. I lurk around the bookcycle; I love to watch what happens. What’s extraordinary is that everyone gathers around the bookcycle and has conversations. I’m now able to get rid of books much more easily knowing they’re going to a good home.

I think I like to be surrounded by books when I’m writing, but the truth is I don’t. I’m easily distracted. I’ve done my best writing at my local public library in one of those little cubbies with noise-canceling headphones. If I need to do some research, I just make a note for later. If I go to a book or online, the whole day could be gone. Writing takes focus, and books pull mine in a million directions.

I subscribe to Nancy Lancaster’s rule of decorating; she’s an American decorator who moved to England in the ’20s. She brought the English country-house style into the mainstream. Her rules were that a home should always have books, candles and flowers. I walk into so many houses today that have been decorated. They’re exquisite. I find them beautiful: two artfully placed objets, stunning coffee table books. For a minute, I think, “I wish my house looked like this.” But then I remember I don’t feel like taking off my shoes and curling up on the sofa in these homes. In fact, I sit there terrified I’m going to spill red wine. A home needs a bit of curated clutter, and that curated clutter has to include things that tell the story of your life, of what you love. For me, that’s books.

(To read the full Washington Post Magazine story, click here. Hat tip: Elisabeth K. Boas)

8 responses to “Jane Green: “A Home Should Always Have Books”

  1. Jill Turner Odice

    I love all of Jane Green’s books ! I look forward to every new one she writes. I grew up in a house filled with books since my Dad was a writer of children’s books. He taught me to read before I was 5…I was his proofreader 🙂
    He also was a book critic, so we always got freebies to read so he could review them.
    Soon he had bookcases built all over the place to hold all the books. As I got older and moved away from home I always brought my books with me, carting those heavy boxes up stairs. My friends would tell me I should get rid of them, but each one meant something special to me, so I justified keeping them.
    Now I am getting older and cannot read the small print and have a Kindle that holds hundreds of book which I can hold in one hand…When I relocated from California to Maine, I ended up donating most of my books to my local library. I can no longer lift all those heavy boxes of books, nor read them…It was hard to give them away, but I hope they will go to good homes to be read many more times.

  2. First, I commend Jane for starting the Remarkable Bookcycle. It is a terrific idea and, for longtime Westporters, it naturally triggers some wonderful memories.

    Re Jane’s comment: “The first place I go in someone’s house is their bookshelves. You can tell exactly who they are.” I have long donated new books to local libraries after having read them; and, after having sold our house, my wife and I ended up donating most of our old books. My wife and I also enjoy reading books, old and new, from the Westport Library—so obviously those never appeared on our bookshelves. (Plus, my wife enjoys checking out audiobooks from the library to listen to in the car.)

    Finally, on the subject of reading, my wife enjoys reading The NY Times every day practically cover to cover.

    The bottom line: I’m not sure what anyone would be able to ascertain about us or our reading habits by looking at our bookshelves.

  3. Roberta Tager

    Delightful article. I have released over 300 books to the library.

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. A. David Wunsch

    I speak from experience here: the only socially sanctioned form of hoarding among educated middle-class people is the acquisition of books.
    ADW Staples 1956

  5. I can’t bring myself to deaccession a book, despite every horizontal surface in the house being loaded with them. Most of my books are filled with my marginalia, and I’m not sure anyone else wants to see that anyway. My heirs will decide what to do, and perhaps curse me at the time. But I also have my great grandfather’s books, and they are a delight: a window on the times and on the mind of an interesting lumberjack/carpenter/mechanic: a 1901 set of Charles Dickens, 1910 complete Alexandre Dumas, 1906 works of Shakespeare, and a fascinating 1910 Nelson’s Encyclopaedia. Each one is inscribed in tidy cursive “Jas. O. Stoneouse his book”. Those, I hope my heirs decide to keep!

  6. Elizabeth (Bette) Popovich, SHS '65

    Jane, your comments bring back a plethora of memories: When I attended Westport’s Saugatuck Elementary School, one of my friends and I spent time at one another’s home reading books…Nancy Drew, of course. When I lived and worked in Manhattan, I had a few friends who, although very social and successful in business, had no books in their apartments. Hmmm. Now retired, I am a volunteer tutor at Literacy Volunteers of Sullivan County, where I spend numerous hours selecting books that I will read and/or send to my brothers’ children and grandchildren. “Curated clutter” is the only way to go, especially if one has an armoire or a Chinese chest.

  7. Ha, ha. It is kind of creepy that she would sign the books, but also quite neat. I am able to give up books easier if I know people will love them.