Renovating the Library

 

Where does this book go? This is a problem that rears its head a few times every year. It’s always an issue in January, but also in September, and usually in May … or even June. Heck, we have a book problem most months. A friend ours once called us “homeschool preppers.” It’s true. When the grid collapses and the power goes out, and everyone is wondering about edible foliage and water purification, come on over — I’ve got a book on that.

My passion for buying books began in September 1995, the month The Lost World by Michael Crichton was released. Until that day, the only book I owned was an unopened Bible. The books I read in high school were from the library and rarely worth the time to read, much less buy. I’m looking at you, Steinbeck.

But I remember walking past a Waldenbooks in the Santa Monica Mall and seeing a display for the literary sequel to the dinosaur blockbuster. I loved the movie of Jurassic Park, and I figured it would be a while before the new book was adapted for the screen, and people always say the book is better than the movie so I plopped down the $22 — sticker shock for a nineteen-year-old — and began my library.

As the years went by, my collection grew and was eventually combined with my future wife’s. College texts, fun twaddle, classics, instructional books and all varieties of history and fiction filled the surfaces of our little condominium. A baby brought board books, children’s classics, books on parenting (mostly worthless), and economics; on and on it went.

Homeschooling our kids and starting our own businesses expanded the library seven-fold, and every day new topics arise as research for the books we’re writing. This month, after a dozen hours researching medical procedures online, I broke down and bought a book on war surgery in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s just easier to study from an open book than from a phone’s screen.

As the collection increases, the shelves get filled. New shelves go up, but that doesn’t solve much because the issue isn’t really how to store them, but where to display them, and this is constantly in flux. Last year’s bedside shelf is full of mostly new titles. The old ones now need a home, and they can’t go just anywhere. The Martian was a decent read and I don’t feel like parting with it, but it has no place near Gone With the Wind, or even Nicholas Nickleby. Maybe we can make a high shelf for Fiction with Mild Profanity up there, next to Ayn Rand.

I finished The Cold War: A New History this year, and sadly its paperback trim size means it must go on a high corner shelf instead of a more prominent location. Why? Because book organization matters. The Science of Interstellar is too large and floppy for my theoretical science shelf, it must go near Celestial Navigation and the atlases, which have bled into the portrait books. Michelangelo and Mary Cassatt are wondering, “What are you doing here?” And where does one shelve An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Mars? History, Biography, Science, Leadership, they all apply.

The books shift with the tide. Much like how our home needs to be reorganized with each new child, so too our bookshelves change with every blessed Amazon box delivered to our door. Perhaps we overbuy, but one simply cannot walk into a thrift store, see two hardcover volumes of Bruce Catton’s Centennial History of the Civil War (even though I already have a set) and not buy them. They’re in the original dust jackets; they’re only four bucks each. 

Sometimes we purge, but more often we reshelve, because you just never know when someone may come to your door wondering what Edmund Burke really thought of the Jacobins, or how to perform an orotracheal intubation. That’s when I say, “Hang on, I’ve got a book on that.”

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There are 14 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Welcome to my world. I started my collection in the 70’s. I don’t have a library in my home. I live in a library.

    • #1
  2. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    The suffering is real. 

    But now with my four children grown, the purge is on. 

    We just cleared out the last bookshelf and have bags and bags of books awaiting pickup. It’s taken months and months, but all four had a chance to claim what they wanted to keep. And I have an empty bedroom!   

    I sadly said to my husband, I’ll have nothing to read when the apocalypse comes and my kindle dies. 

    His reply: so you’ll have time to write something.

    I feel 10 lbs lighter and years younger. I’ve oft noted that you spend the first half of your life accumulating and the second half divesting 

    • #2
  3. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    My grandfather was also a book fiend.

    Born in the US to Polish parents who spoke no English, in a company town of all Polish immigrants, books were his main link to the language of his native country – and he fell in love with them. Over the years, he taught literature, befriended many famous American authors and poets, and helped spearhead the construction of a new library at the college where he worked.

    But most of all, he just loved going into used bookstores and browsing, perusing, and buying whatever piqued his interest – regardless of the topic, age, or condition of the book. His collection grew to somewhere north of 20,000 volumes, and he had his entire basement gutted and renovated into a climate-controlled library.

    My grandmother finally made an ultimatum at age 70 that for every book he bought, he had to throw one from his collection out. After she suffered a fairly incapacitating stroke, he would sneak out like an alcoholic with excuses such as “I need to go to the post office to mail a letter”. When he returned two hours later, my grandmother – unable to speak and barely able to move – would still shoot him a penetrating glance that said “you’ve been buying old books again, haven’t you?”

    After he passed, the appraiser informed us that at least 95% of his collection would in all likelihood end up in the dumpster. So instead of liquidating his collection, we invited everyone who attended his funeral (over 300 people) back to his house for a reception with the request that everybody take as many of his books as they wanted. I’ve still got a shelf-full with me right now.

    • #3
  4. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    @vinceguerra, is that picture your home library? It looks beautiful.

    • #4
  5. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    First book I ever bought – with my own money, mail-order – was when I was about twelve. It was a copy of Chappell’s The American Sailing Navy. Got it as a remnant from a book catalog sent to my folks. I don’t remember how much it was – maybe $1.00 with $0.50 postage, but that was a lot of money back when comic books were 12 cents.

    Yup. used that book when I wrote my first-ever book as part of the background material for the plates. Filled out my library using mail-ordered remnants for many years after.

    • #5
  6. Old Buckeye Inactive
    Old Buckeye
    @OldBuckeye

    There was a bookshelf in every room of our house when I was growing up and I had my own collection from a very young age. An entire set of Nancy Drew, secondhand from a terrific used book store in town; a copy of Heidi that had been my mom’s; a slipcased edition of The Hobbit were some I remember. Then I married a man who also loves books. We’ve moved dozens of boxes of books several times around the eastern half of the country, but in recent years, have had to divest ourselves of many because of size restraints of our homes and eyesight that dictates more audio “reading.” I also retired from my editing work and now have about 50 writing and editing related books to get rid of. So far I’ve had no nibbles from the two area colleges’ developmental writing departments. Sadly, they’ll probably end up in the local library’s book sale. 

    • #6
  7. JamesSalerno Coolidge
    JamesSalerno
    @JamesSalerno

    Shelf porn!

    I love reading articles like this. I also find that if your bookshelf is out in plain sight, it’s a great conversation starter for when you’re entertaining guests. I’m collecting/reading bios on every president and I’ve found that people with no interest in history left my house with a much greater interest. Good stuff!

    • #7
  8. Vince Guerra Inactive
    Vince Guerra
    @VinceGuerra

    Mendel (View Comment):

    @vinceguerra, is that picture your home library? It looks beautiful.

    Yes it is, and thank you. My wife fell in love with the house the moment she saw the library. We started off renting it, but as soon as we were moved in it became clear to all of us that it was home. The library played a major part in that I’m sure. There are also book areas in other parts of the house. 

    • #8
  9. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Mendel (View Comment):
    After he passed, the appraiser informed us that at least 95% of his collection would in all likelihood end up in the dumpster. So instead of liquidating his collection, we invited everyone who attended his funeral (over 300 people) back to his house for a reception with the request that everybody take as many of his books as they wanted. I’ve still got a shelf-full with me right now.

    Excellent idea!

    • #9
  10. She Member
    She
    @She

    Vince Guerra (View Comment):

    Mendel (View Comment):

    @vinceguerra, is that picture your home library? It looks beautiful.

    Yes it is, and thank you. My wife fell in love with the house the moment she saw the library. We started off renting it, but as soon as we were moved in it became clear to all of us that it was home. The library played a major part in that I’m sure. There are also book areas in other parts of the house.

    That’s a beautiful room, and I love that there’s so much light.  My “bookworm” friends also have a library, but it’s very cramped and has only one small window.  There’s a desk, and you can study in there, but it’s not a room for relaxation and reading.  (They had to have the floor of their library shored up, as it was starting to take one side of the house down, as they live in a very old and rather poorly-built house on the outskirts of Pittsburgh.

    Vince Guerra:

    Perhaps we overbuy, but one simply cannot walk into a thrift store, see two hardcover volumes of Bruce Catton’s Centennial History of the Civil War (even though I already have a set) and not buy them. They’re in the original dust jackets; they’re only four bucks each. 

    Sometimes we purge, but more often we reshelve, because you just never know when someone may come to your door wondering what Edmund Burke really thought of the Jacobins, or how to perform an orotracheal intubation. That’s when I say, “Hang on, I’ve got a book on that.”

    This section of your post made me think that you and my friends would have enjoyed each other very much (sadly, the husband, and main book collector of the two, died six years ago.  But the library lives on).

    • #10
  11. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    Vince Guerra: …fun twaddle….

    Great post and a bonus “like” for using the word.

    • #11
  12. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    Vince Guerra: …Bruce Catton’s Centennial History of the Civil War…

    His Army of the Potomac trilogy was wonderful (all three on my library shelf for under $20 from Half Price Books) as were his two contributions to the Grant trilogy started by Lloyd Lewis (similar bargains, of course).  It ain’t easy being this cheap.

    Vince Guerra: …The Lost World by Michael Crichton…

    Great book…maybe even better than the first…but the movie embarrassingly silly.  The only movie I seriously considered walking out of in the middle after paying admission.  Almost. (Again, it ain’t easy being this cheap.) 

    • #12
  13. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    A great post on books and the things book lovers do to accommodate them. A friend  spent years getting a craftsman to build his custom bookshelves along the walls of what has become an amazing home library.


    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under January’s theme: Renovation. There are plenty of dates still available. Have a great home renovation story? Maybe with photos? Have a terrible home renovation story? How about furniture, or an instrument, a plane, a train or an automobile? Are you your renovation project, or someone else’s? Do you have criticism or praise for some public renovation, accomplished or desperately needed? Are you a big fan, or not so much, of home renovation shows? Unleash your inner fan or critic. We have some wonderful photo essays on Ricochet; perhaps you have a story with before and after photos, or reflections on the current state of a long project. The possibilities are endless! Why not start a conversation? Our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    I’ll post the February topic and sign-up sheet mid-month. I’ll consider topical suggestions.

    • #13
  14. Vince Guerra Inactive
    Vince Guerra
    @VinceGuerra

    philo (View Comment):
    Great book…maybe even better than the first…but the movie embarrassingly silly. The only movie I seriously considered walking out of in the middle after paying admission.

    I agree, none of the movie sequels have come close to the original. I rarely ever see movies in the theater since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; it almost did me in. The only movie I ever walked out on was Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. 

    • #14
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