Thursday, May 24, 2012

Straightening It All Out

I have a lot of books. 

Actually, I used to have a lot of books and now I have the best of that lot. 

The whole thing makes me antsy.  We had a library and a living room lined with bookshelves in Chicago.  We moved to northern California and found houses with big windows and high ceilings and expansive vistas..... but no wall space and certainly no bookshelves.  Californians live outdoors; there wasn't a lot of emphasis on the life of the mind, it seemed.

I installed shelving in every home; my books took pride of place.

Downsizing and moving, once again, I vowed that I would not pay movers to transport volumes I never would read again.  That plan failed as I, once again, underestimated the time and energy required to pack up two lives (and the detritus of two other lives whose owners were living elsewhere but whose possessions seemed destined to stay, forever and forever, with their parental units).  By the time the movers came to pack up the kitchen, the boxes of books which had been stored in the garage were loaded, unemptied and unexamined, onto the truck to Arizona.

I love our home here in the desert.  It has windows everywhere, opening the inside to the outside and affording me views that stretch for miles and miles.  I couldn't ask for anything more...... except, perhaps, a wall or two onto which I could attach bookshelves.

The house has curves and pillars and arches and those aforementioned windows.  There aren't a lot of options for shelves. 

Climbing up ladders - even step stools - is still a challenge for my recovering body.  It's not the stability (though that is lacking, too) as much as the mental challenge that impedes me.  It used to be a simple matter to clamber up the steps and replace or retrieve a book.  Now, damaged and afraid, I look at them up there on the top shelf and I sigh.  So, I won't rearrange the first editions today.

That mentality, that willingness to give in to the challenge, was one of the only places where I let my injuries interfere with my life.  There were certainly other places where I was unable to proceed as I had planned, where my lack of mobility and endurance precluded an adventure, but I usually managed to power my way through the problems and end up with a smile on my face.

Not so with the library's shelving.

I'd go to the bookstore or the public library and return with my treasures.  When I was taking care of the problem, there was a space on the first shelf in from the door where un-read books resided.  As time went on, that space began to be filled with mail to be read, articles to be passed on, magazines with stories about me.... the random papers that accumulate without notice were gradually taking over my life.

Patty came to clean last week and I watched as she moved the stacks of books and papers and newsprint and a washcloth - what was that doing there? - gently from side to side, dusting between the piles.  It was ridiculous.  She was primping the mess.  I had to do something.

It took an entire week, until she returned again yesterday to clean once more, before I could tackle it.  My mood and my available time were finally in synch.  I got to work. 

My Sophie's choice - which to keep and which to resell - was no easier this time than it has ever been before.  I was ruthless, removing I'll never read this again's from the shelves and placing them in the the sturdy Macy's shopping bag for the trip to Bookmans.  I don't need three copies of The Aeneid; I kept the two which had notes along the side. Self-help books made their way to my couch during my recovery; they went into the bag as well.  It was a painful task, I didn't want to hurt their feelings... or their authors' feelings... or my own, for that matter. 

I need more bookshelves rang out through the house.  Patty and TBG just laughed.

I'd begun using the ledge between the wall shelving and the lower cabinetry as a catch-all.  Yesterday, I found a necklace I'd been missing, a phone number I'd misplaced, and other small, assorted treasures.  I tossed the empty roll of packing tape as I wondered what had made me put it on the shelf instead of in the recycling bin on the other side of the room.  It's a good thing I can still laugh at my own foibles; there were lots of them to discover as I straightened.

I put the Greeks together and the Romans together and had a lengthy conversation with myself before I put James Joyce next to Abelard and Heloise.  The atlases are cozied up with one another and so are the yearbooks.  The books by women are reordered and gently improved upon and the I'm sure you'll like anything here space has also been revamped.  My-friend-the-published-author has her own section; I took some time to admire her output before I moved on to the gardening section.

Taking out the California texts and putting the Southern Arizona tomes in their proper place took some time.  I have hiking guides which taunt me but I could not force myself to put them in storage.  I will be able to do more than the handicapped accessible trails.... I know I will.... I know I will.  I'm keeping the books there as inspiration.  The field guides to birds and beasts and flora and roadsides are now in order, resting comfortably beside their colleagues.  Somehow, I managed to stay focused and I didn't open a single one.  I've learned my lesson - many a time I've begun this project in that section and never made it further.  There is so much to learn and to see and to ponder and to do... the books are attractive nuisances when it comes to cleaning up.

And when I was finished, I laughed out loud.  Leaving the room, I found myself consciously turning my head to the right, away from the shelves and the mess..... wait a minute, there is no more mess!  I realized I'd even been avoiding looking in that direction, the disorder was so unpleasing to my eye.  No longer.  I smiled and took a step back into the room to admire my work.



  1. The good think about having a Kindle is you can store your books on a SD Card. When we put new bookshelves in our living room, I really pared down the books. I had lots of books and I too had to make the choice. But it's liberating to not have clutter. I didn't need three copies of, "What to Expect When You are Expecting". I wasn't going to be pregnant again. Not even sure why I had three copies of that book. I had two on nursing. I do know why I had two of the same. I had lent one to a friend and when I became pregnant again, I didn't have the copy I had lent and thus bought another copy. Then my friend gave it back to me. So here I was with two of that book. I hate giving away books. I love the smell of them and love the tactile feeling of them. But in order to get rid of the clutter, I now purchase all of my books to read on my iPad. It's easier on my back too. I used to carry computer books in my work bag every day so I could refer to them if I needed them. I now have 60+ books on my iPad.

    It's hard to get rid of things that bring us comfort, but I'm sure the feeling of having the mess gone is more appealing.

    Happy Thursday.

    Megan xxx

  2. Oh, books. Books. Books. Books...

    We've been in our present house for going on 11 years. Our offices are in a room over the garage, so actually in the garage there's a long sloping bit of ceiling, just about 3 feet wide, along one wall (under the stairway to the offices); in that triangle of space are BOXES OF BOOKS. Exactly where they were placed that Saturday in that long-ago September (although now, of course, they're a bit dustier). Last time I counted, I think there were 12 boxes, give or take.

    Most of the books I like to have at hand are unpacked and shelved somewhere in the house. But every now and then, y'know, I think something like, How did that one line go? In that paragraph on a left-hand page about halfway through the novel with the woman's face on the cover, in impressionistic yellow and rose colors...? It drives me crazy that I can't get to that book, wherever it is.

    MS is right, though. eBooks are a boon. (I have even [he whispered, sneaking glances over his shoulder to be sure no one is recording this conversation for a psychiatric journal] on a couple of occasions BOUGHT a Kindle version of a book I know I've already got stuffed away in a box under the stairs.)

  3. Sure, MS and JES, I could have thousands of books on a tiny card, but then how would you know what I've read? I, too, remember the left hand side of the page in the book with the girl on the cover, JES... in the Kindle it's just words. It's more convenient, and for research (your 60+ computer books, Megan) or schoolwork it makes sense. But, for me, the pleasure is in the touch of the paper as much as it is in the words themselves (ok, maybe not As Much, but...).

    I love posting on this topic - my readers are readers and you always chime in!

    1. I've lost almost all sentimentality about the feel/aroma of the paper, and suspect that your preference for it marks you as a sensualist in general (vs. my intellectualist, I guess). I've thought a lot about what reading is like for me; after some initial e-book skepticism, I realized that I honestly have close to zero awareness of a given book AS book while I'm reading it. Only when it's on the shelf do I have a sense of its physical nature -- but the important thing (again, to me) is the content and not the form.

      Hence my sneaking duplicate e-purchases. ;)

  4. I am so, so impressed! Books are the hardest thing for me to part with. I still have my entire tattered set of paperback Little House books my brother gave me when I was 9.

    1. I'm looking at the Tom Swift's and Don Sturdy series that my mother-in-law bequesthed to me... they were hers from her childhool. Never fear, Karina, I kept the ones to which I am most attached.

  5. I got another groan from SIR last night while I was rearranging our bookshelf (sadly singular) to fit a new stack. His suggestion: buy smaller books. Sigh....

  6. I'm pleased to read about your cleaning binge. I am a minimalist and have over the past three years cleaned out about 400 books from this tiny house and the paid storage unit. Once I cleared out the books from the storage unit, I filled in the space with all the boxes of Christmas decorations which I will probably never use in its entirety again. It's nice to have empty drawers and shelves. Wish some of my friends could get in the cleaning mode.


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