For those of us who buy, beg, borrow, or steal books, space is not a problem. We simply find ways to add to our stacks.
As is the case with those who have personality disorders, we have no problem, but others especially spouses, parents, or roomies may very well have a problem with our zeal for the word on the page, stacked randomly by volume, to the ceiling (and beyond, frankly, if we could but figure out the mechanics).
The divide is between maniacs and neurotics. Right?
Lately, I have enjoyed a small-format hardcover (The Overlook Press, 2012) concerning private libraries, Phantoms on the Bookshelves, by Jacques Bonnet (translated from the French by James Salter).
From the time my brother would read a book given to him as a gift and leave it behind when he returned to college, thus adding to my budding adolescent collection of books, I have been a buyer and forager of books as well as a reader.
I would borrow books from mom and tools from dad, and the borrowing was permanent unless one of us complained.
I never did.
When I was young and mobile, I would load all my belongings in the back of my old pickup and move to a new place. Boxes of books were the bulk of the load.
When I moved across the country to attend seminary, quitting a good job and jettisoning most of my belongings, 24 boxes of books went ahead of me by parcel post. I found out that I was notorious, though not at all popular, when I arrived a week or so later, by car.
I was the nut who sent all those books that overwhelmed the closet-sized seminary mail room.
For most of my reading, for a very long time, I bought trade paperbacks (loved the razor-sharp edges), shunned mass market paperbacks (the cheap ink made my eyes itch), and rarely bought hardcovers (because of the price differential). All that changed when I took up the selling of used books. I suddenly had a huge supply of hardcover books costing $1 each at library sales. I had to expand my shelve space. Using a simple design that is based on No. 2 pine boards 1 inch thick and four inches wide (well, ¾ by 3 ½ in finished size), I had almost enough shelf space to accommodate my horde. For the space of a day, anyway. When I ran out of wall space for shelves, the piles began to grow.
That’s just a bit of my story as a reader who hangs on to what he reads and who buys books, frequently, on a whim. I claim 3,000 volumes, but who’s counting?
My spouse, maybe?
Bonnet has many, many more books than that, and a system for keeping track of them, and no print-generated piles on the floor, one presumes.
That, however, is not the point.
If you love to read about books as books, this slim volume and the slightly dazed book person behind the writing will please you. His thoughts on the differences between collectors and accumulators is worth the cost of admission. And I was excited to take from his bibliography a list of novels new to me that include personal libraries prominently in their plots.
Now I am getting ready to prune my books by a factor of X, since I no longer sell used books online and have about 1,200 volumes to sort. One pile for donations and one pile for keepers.
The promise of empty shelves lures me on.
- Phantoms on the Bookshelves is available as a hardcover or Kindle file from Amazon.