Sunday, May 30, 2010

Never Enough Bookshelves

It doesn't matter what I do.  The books just come to me.  I used to be a bookseller (still am, in my heart), and when I was I brought home, oh, two to five books a week.  ARCs come to you when you're a bookseller, and you have a great discount, too.  I've been out of bookselling for nearly six months now, and I've brought, probably, three times as many books into the house during these months as I did BU (Before Unemployment).  I tell myself that I'm not going to buy anymore.  Hell, the first thing I did after giving notice at my gone-to-hell job was to sign up for a library card.  But then, every time I'm at the library being fiscally responsible there's the Friends of the Library cart in the lobby, filled with mass market paperbacks for a quarter each and hardcovers for a buck.  How can I not dig for change at the bottom of my purse so that I can pick up a couple?  And what about the Saturday morning I stopped off to borrow a couple of books  and there was the Friends of the Library, set up in the conference room with all of their stock of donations and library discards?  After thirty minutes or so perusing all of the books I--responsibly, responsibly--approach the nice volunteer lady with five hardcovers for, I'm assuming, a grand total of five dollars.  "That's a dollar," she says, "but you haven't even filled a bag."  What?  Turns out this is a blow-out library sale, a buck a bag.  I fill two bags to the point of bursting, give the lady a ten and magnanimously tell her to keep the rest as a donation.  Even at that price I figure out, when I do the math later, that I spent a whopping 36 cents a book.

I've also learned that the ARCs don't have to stop coming when you're no longer receiving them unsolicited at work.  All of the publishers, major and minor, hold drawings for ARCs every week (the incredibly informative daily newsletter from Shelf Awareness not only gives great information about the book biz, culled from all over the media, but also one-click access to these drawings).  GoodReads, Shelfari, and my beloved LibraryThing also offer ARCs to readers willing to review them.

So you see my dilemma, right?  The stacks of books keep growing because the bookshelves are already crammed full.  I have stacks by the bed, under the desk, in stray corners here and there.  Niecy Nash and the Clean House crew would be horrified.  Into the yard sale! they'd shriek at me.  How many of these books are you ever going to read again? they'd inquire, shaking their heads in dismay at my pigheaded refusal to let them go.  And you know what?  Even I'd have to admit that there's no reason to keep five copies of the Writer's Market, the oldest dating back to 1996.  On the other hand, there's a very good reason I have four different editions of The Crying of Lot 49 on the shelf, although I'd be hard-pressed to get Miss Niecy and the gang (or my mother, for that matter) to understand. 

It's a choice, really.  I can stop acquiring books or I can find more bookshelves.  Having so little else in the way of vice in my life, and knowing that I'll never be a Zen master, divested of all earthly possessions, I opt to keep acquiring books and obtain more bookshelves.  Two and a half years ago, when Pete and I bought our house, we looked into having custom shelving built.  How glorious, we thought, to have the living room and the study lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves.  A ladder--we can even get a library ladder! We were quickly disabused of the notion of custom cases when we received the rough estimate: for a twelve foot run of wall, seven feet high, it would cost $6,000.  Six thousand dollars.  6K.  A grand...times six.  Obviously we'd have to find a cheaper alternative, and research helped us to determine that Ikea has the best options for inexpensive but relatively well-made shelving.  We set ourselves up with six Billy bookcases from Ikea in the living room, which brought us fairly comfortably up to the letter R in fiction.  

That left the rest of the books, and this year we decided to use our tax refund to finish the more case in the living room, two in one of the upstairs bedrooms, and five in what we are now, grandly, calling the library.  Getting new bookshelves is a complex and intricate procedure.  Not the actual purchasing and bringing home of them, although that, in and of itself, requires the renting of a truck and heavy lifting at both ends of the journey--and some assembly is, of course, required.  No, the intricacies involve the removal of books from the existing shelves (they weren't all piled about the house in stacks), finding a place to stage them once they've been removed from the shelves (in this case they were stacked in an unlovely fashion on the kitchen floor, three waist-high stacks deep for about the length of a wall), and then--after the old cases have been hauled out and the new hauled in, assembled, and installed--figuring out what we've got.

You know, putting them in order.  

The fiction was easy.  Yes, it's more than fifteen hundred titles, but still, alphabetical by author is easy (even when you fussily alphabetize each author's works by title, as well).  But the nonfiction...well, there's a reason booksellers always take a bracing breath before answering the question,  "Where's your nonfiction section?"  There are just so goddamned many types of nonfiction.

A great many of the nonfiction books in our house fall into the category of history.  History, in particular military history, is Pete's passion, so he took on the project of organizing--chronologically by war, the American Revolution through the conflict in Vietnam, and ending with general history/general military history--and alphabetizing those books.  But then there's all the rest.  How to put it together?  How to make it flow?  For example, you want a Reference section (of course you want a Reference section!).  But should it be divided into subsections, such as dictionaries, grammars, books on writing, language learning, and so on?  Or should it be all one big section?  And just how many books make a subsection?  Are three books on anthropology enough to merit a break of its own, or should those books be subsumed into a larger section?    Okay, which one?  And, while we're at it, just how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?  What, you're saying my cataloging issues aren't of metaphysical proportions?

The Library Project is in its infancy.  There are more books in boxes.  In stacks.  Piled in the back of closets.  But now there are cases, and not all the shelves are full yet.  The ordering will be an ongoing project.  But everything that's up is in alphabetical order, at least.  And I've finally found a home for my OED.



EnriqueFreeque said...

Very amusing and all too true essay! The way you really got inside the mind of a certifiable and, I'm afraid, hopelessly incurable bibliophile's constant quandary when it comes to shelf space v. piles as the acquisitions always - indefatigably - keep on coming (how can they not?), was quite impressive and astute.

Aeyan said...

The metaphysical ramifications of ordering a library is one of the greatest conundrums of human history. At least, for bibliophilic history.

Thank the spirits for Ikea.

Rebecca Glenn said...

Those Swedes really do know what they're doing. Their couches might be cheap ass junk, but their storage is olympean in its wonderfulness and utility.

Silsbee said...

Very, very true. And, good lord, your library is beautiful. Ikea, here I come... ;)

Rebecca Glenn said...

Thanks, Silsbee! Ikea really does have a lot of nice (relatively) inexpensive options.