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Friday, January 28, 2011

How Much Shelf Space Is Enough?

In a recent post and comments following, there was the beginning of a discussion of books in their role of furnishing our homes. After Walt estimated bookshelf footage in his house, I was curious and, borrowing David’s tape measure and then rounding off and estimating and multiplying from there, I came up with a figure of 75 feet in our old farmhouse. I think I may have forgotten a very full bookcase upstairs in the guest room, but the figure seems close enough. And then (funny how this works out) the very next evening David decided we had to rearrange one of our rooms, which involved moving the larger of two bookcases there from one wall to another opposite. Everything had to be taken off the shelves so the heavy piece of furniture could be moved—and thoroughly dusted!

No, our shelves are not French chalked quarter-sawn oak. They are homemade, pine boards with particleboard backing, and while if you look very hard, you might find one or two leatherbound books, you would also find books that lost their binding long ago. Here’s one:

This is an example of a book not good enough to put out for sale at Dog Ears and too good to toss in the recycling bin. (Robert Burns! Trash, never! I cannot believe I missed his birthday!) Any decorator who inspected our bookshelves would have palpitations, for sure.

While we did organize a little bit (very roughly) in reshelving these books, some titles defy category. Where would you put Without Machinery, an old upper grade school social studies book?

Such a charming book! The chapter I've opened to here, about nomadic reindeer herders in Lapland, is titled "The Winter Home." Our winter home is mostly the central room in our house, while the front porch and the outdoors are our summer home.

Would you put “books by people we know” all together on a shelf or separate them according to whether they are fiction, poetry, memoir or whatever? A couple of my favorite children’s books make special any spot they occupy.

My cookbooks have a separate little bookcase in this same room. (Don’t ask me why my big French dictionaries are with the cookbooks.)

There are more bookcases in our living room, in David’s office, in the “cozy room” and in the upstairs guest room. In our bedroom we have to stack books on our dressers. These are books we’re reading at bedtime, either silently to ourselves or aloud to each other. And now we are in the throes of making ready to tear out our old kitchen, which was the inspiration for last night’s reorganization: our dining table had to move so it wouldn’t be in the way of outgoing cupboards and incoming sheets of drywall, and the bookcase and leather chairs had to move to make room for the dining table. I’m not posting pictures of the room because we have yet to repaint the walls and floors, but already we like the new configuration. “We were getting in a rut,” we agreed. The only problem so far is that there is no room for the little lamp-and-book table that used to sit between our two reading chairs.

Can we live without a place to stack up books? Or will our dining table gradually disappear from view and the future find us with our plates on our laps?


P. J. Grath said...

The first comment came in an e-mail this morning from Nova Scotia:

"January's a great time to make changes in your living environment. I find moving things around clears out the cobwebs in both my house and my mind."

Thank you for that encouraging comment, Any-Lynn. You didn't know it, perhaps, but I am very much hoping that changes in our home environment will take the place of a change of scenery and jog my mind into new, productive winter channels.

Susan said...

I love the ordeal of emptying bookcases for whatever reason because it always turns up books I'd forgotten I had, or find I wish to read again. Or, sometimes, I find books that once thrilled me (a whole collection about women and sexuality, for example) that I now think, "Neh," and can get rid of.

As for books by people you know: Absolutely keep them in one spot! I also keep there books that mention my name in the acknowledgments (there are in fact two or three), and books I review.

let us some day enjoy dinner together and speak ONLY of why we arrange our books as we do.

Dawn said...

If I had to choose between books and the dining room table it would be difficult...the dining room table represents good conversation with friends and family. But books...well books are everything. So maybe we'd all sit around in chairs and eat if I had to sacrifice the dining room to the bookshelves. We'd survive...but not sure we'd survive the other way around.

Gerry said...

I have a "delicious books" shelf where my very favorite books reside. When Rob the Firefighter finally decides to put me in a home, I hope he'll send those along with me! The rest are organized in categories that make sense to me, although they might not to John Dewey or the Librarian of Congress. The reference shelf, the poetry and theatre and writers-on-writing shelves, the Civil War shelves, the children's books bookcase. Nature guides braced between bookends on a cabinet. And far too many in boxes under the eaves because I've never replaced the bookcases I left behind. This winter they'll go onto shelves or "outto" the Friends of the Central Lake Library book sale. Enough.

P. J. Grath said...

Susan, do you really think we could hold ourselves to a single topic over dinner? I doubt it!

Dawn, I think I could sit on the floor to visit and eat and read. I have done! Must have books and friends and food, but furniture is secondary. Thanks for reminding me.

Gerry, even my bookstore is arranged according to what makes to me, rather than Dewey Decimal categories or Library of Congress. (I do, however, love the Dewey system.) The most important feature of the way books are organized, to me, is being able to find them.