A fund-raising tour of private libraries in Concord taps into the community’s long literary legacy
A dozen years ago, when Hugo Bedau first mentioned his plans to retire from his position as a philosophy professor at Tufts University, his wife admits to having a moment of panic.
“You can’t retire; we don’t have room for your books,’’ said medical historian Constance Putnam, only half joking.
It was true. Though the couple’s contemporary-style home in Concord contained more than enough room for the two of them, it didn’t have shelf space for the thousands of books Bedau had collected in his more than 40 years as an academic.
So they added a private library onto their home, complete with reading nooks, window seat, research area, and shelf space for what Putnam says are 3,000 to 5,000 volumes: books they’ve read, taught, studied, and collected over the years, as well as those they’ve written themselves.
Their home’s private library is one of six that will be featured in a tour to benefit the Concord Free Public Library. House and garden tours have grown enormously popular in recent years, but the library’s fund-raiser, taking place Oct. 1 from 1 to 5 p.m., represents a new chapter in the genre.
Diana Clymer, a member of the Friends of the Concord Free Public Library committee instrumental in organizing it, said it’s the first time she’s heard of a private library tour.
Still, she points out, if there’s any place ripe for staging such an event, it is surely Concord, where the spirit of past literary greats such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott mingles with those of current author-residents.
“People love to be inside private spaces,’’ Clymer said. “Concord is a very literary town and can draw people who appreciate literature. Visitors will also get a lot of great ideas for how to organize their own books, regardless of whether they have a hodgepodge or a focused collection.’’
At first, committee members weren’t certain they could find enough properties to fill out a tour, but once they put their minds to it, everyone had suggestions for Concord homes that boasted legendary book collections, whether the owners are scholars, researchers, collectors, writers, or all of the above.
They approached Dr. Frederick Lovejoy, a library trustee and associate physician-in-chief at Children’s Hospital Boston, who agreed to welcome visitors into his Nashawtuc Hill home. The family’s library includes medical texts and histories, some written by Lovejoy and some by his mentors, as well as a collection of classic Concord authors and dozens of other genres, but Lovejoy likes to point out that it’s a vital living space, not just a place to store books.
“In the winter, my wife and I light a fire and sit in here to read. It has books, but also family pictures and other things we’ve collected,’’ he said.
Among Lovejoy’s favorite keepsakes in the elegant room is a framed photo of himself with President John F. Kennedy and other members of the Kennedy family watching a yacht race.
Nancy Traversy is more accustomed to showing off the book collection in her store than the one in her home. But the chief executive officer and cofounder of Barefoot Books, a children’s book publisher with a retail store on Thoreau Street in Concord, also has an impressive home library.
“It’s a collection of every book Barefoot has ever published. I started the business 20 years ago. We’ve published between 500 and 600 books since 1992,’’ Traversy said, “and when we moved to our Concord home 10 years ago, I really wanted to put them on display.’’
Of course, while setting up a private library as sophisticated as those on the tours may inspire some visitors, it may seem a little bit anachronistic to others. Surely with the rising popularity of e-books, even the most avid readers are starting to need less rather than more space for hard-copy volumes?
Wendy Arundel, a certified professional organizer and president of a Wellesley-based consulting company, the Mudroom, says she has occasionally been asked to help a client organize a private reading room, but more often is called in to assist in paring down their collections.
“That’s when we face our sentimental demons,’’ Arundel said. “In addition to our own favorite books, we often hang onto our children’s favorites, and in some cases our parents’ and grandparents’ favorites. I highly recommend e-books to voracious readers, but, at the end of the day, I totally empathize with those who need to feel the pages turn.’’
Putnam and Bedau definitely number themselves among those who have no use for e-readers; being surrounded by books is quite simply a core part of their identity. Both Putnam and Bedau are published authors in their academic disciplines, and they even collaborated on a book: “In Spite of Innocence: Erroneous Convictions in Capital Cases.’’
“Our library includes books that belonged to my father, my grandfather. Their names are in them,’’ Putnam said. “We’re not great archivists or collectors of valuable books; the books in our collection are all ones we’ve used or loved.’’
For Bedau, this passion for the physical presence of books goes back to his childhood and the home his father built in San Francisco almost 80 years ago.
“Within that house, my father designed a library,’’ he said. “It wasn’t like the one we have now. It was just a small room with shelves, chairs, and a table. My father wasn’t a scholar; he had to quit school early to support his widowed mother. But that was when I first absorbed the sense of coziness that comes from having a room lined with books.’’
As is typical of house-tour fund-raisers, the organizing committee is reluctant to give too many specific details about what will be included on the tour; they want to leave some surprises for ticket purchasers to discover on the day of the event.
However, committee members promise that a highlight will be the opportunity to talk with some local authors about the books they’ve written and the books that they love.
Tickets can be purchased in advance for $25 at Concord’s main library, 129 Main St., or the Fowler Branch at 1322 Main St. in West Concord, as well as by mail with a check made out to the Friends of the Concord Free Public Library and sent to PO Box 644, Concord, MA 01742.
They will also be available for $30 at both library branches on the day of the tour.
For information about the Oct. 1 benefit event, go to www.concordprivatelibrariestour.org.