Expansion pack…

I’ve had to expand the nonfiction holding section (also known as the spare bedroom). I’m a lot more selective about the history that comes into the house than I am about the fiction, but even so, the two small bookcases were literally bent under the weight of things and books were spreading out to occupy every flat surface in the room. As much as I love books, it just isn’t a good look on those rare occasions when the hospitality of the homestead is offered.

All this, of course, meant a flying trip to IKEA to bring on two new, larger bookcases. Now it’s a simple matter of getting them assembled and reordering the current mess. That can wait on a day that’s not quite so conducive to being outside… but thanks to the eternal shortage of everything, grabbing the flat packs when I had the time and they were in stock was a necessary evil. 

Overall, the questions of books and book storage here are now taking on a Jenga-esque feeling. Where new bookcases will go, if I’ll move ones I currently have, and how they’ll all fit together involves more thought than you’d strictly think reasonable.

My first thought to shore up the nonfiction front was to simply move the smaller shelves out of the library and put them to work in the guest room – replacing them with bookcases that match the two large ones I loaded into the library last year. The trouble is, the smaller cases are already earmarked, eventually, for my own bedroom. Their dark finish fits better there than the guest room. I’m not yet ready to put them to work in my bedroom there yet, though, and I’d really like to avoid cleaning them off and moving them on two separate occasions. It’s a surprisingly awkward and time-consuming process.

So the guest room, otherwise known as my nonfiction to-be-read pile, gets the benefit of two new Billy’s (in birch veneer since basic, and cheap, white has been going out of stock as soon as it shows local availability). Everything else stays put for the time being – and least until after the bathroom renovation is over and I make a decision on new flooring for the master bedroom. It’s not one of those dramatic improvements I’ll see and appreciate every day in passing, but it will be a decided improvement in managing and protecting a large and ever-growing book collection.

Call it money well spent.

Utterly impractical, but yet…

My mother made the trip down to Fortress Jeff a few weeks ago. It was the first visit since the Great Plague kicked off fifteen months ago. I suspect that anyone who has moved away from home will recognize that it’s the kind of visit that can be fraught with opportunity for… uhhhh… “adventure.” 

A few days into her visit, I pondered aloud about re-organizing the living room to free up an extra wall to install bookcases when the collection eventually overruns the newly designated library area that formerly did business as an ill-used dining room. That comment earned me a long look…. And yes, it was most definitely that look. The kind we’re all familiar with from growing up. 

The look™ lead to a perfectly reasonable discussion of why it would make the room look too crowded, not match the rest of the furniture, and in general be a bad idea. She wasn’t wrong. At best, it would make the room’s layout vaguely awkward. It wasn’t a project on my short list anyway – more something to be pressed into service only if all other blank wall space was consumed. 

Leaving the assessment of too many bookcases already, and too many books, and why don’t you just use the library like a normal person (Answer: Largely, because the average local library doesn’t carry much in the way of older, more obscure titles that I’m lucky to have lurking on my own shelves), I really expected that particular conversation was over. It probably should have been…

But then, a completely offhand remark, probably in jest, suggesting that if I just moved into the guest bedroom, there would be room in the master bedroom for at least a dozen bookcases around the walls with another dozen in aisles down the center. 

Yeah, that one sent my head spinning off to places it really has no business going. It’s a ridiculous idea, obviously. I mean just hiring a structural engineer to assess the dead weight load the floor in there could take is going to be an effort… Maybe I’ll roll that in to the bathroom renovation plan. You know, just to have the information in my hip pocket if I ever need it.

Library….

Sometimes the most dangerous thing I can tell you is “I’ve got a plan.”

I’ve always wanted a library of my own. A place just for books. Space, money, and the knowledge that I’d be moving again soon always conspired to make it impractical. Now that I’ve settled in to a house I plan on being in for the next 15 years, that calculus changed a little.

I’ve got the old bookcases rearranged and freed up space for two new additions.  I’ve also stumbled into the first of what I’m assuming will be multiple problems as the room comes together.

It started life as a dining room and has doors on two walls and a triple window on another wall. Proper built ins would be better, but I’m going to want to sell this place one day. As much as I’d like to imagine otherwise, an operational dining room is likely to be a better highlight than a full library for the average buyer. Sure, I’d like to imagine selling the place someday who shares my slavish love of books, but I’m a practical home seller with far more concern about ending up with the biggest pile of cash possible once all the paperwork is signed.

Since doing the full conversion is out, I’ve accepted the idea that IKEA makes serviceable shelving at a price that’s not cripplingly expensive. My room will hold a lot of their units, but being fixed width, there will be some gaps and a bit of downright weird spacing. Add in the just confirmed fact that the floor is half an inch out of level in places and some of the things I need to do to make the shelves look level is downright wonky. This room seems determined to teach me the art of the compromise.

Before I started the “great rejigger” of furniture this week, I thought I’d be able to squeeze a good comfy reading chair into the corner of the room that gets the best evening light in the summer. A quick look now with everything in place shows that was a pipe dream. So the options are either keep the shelf space as planned and lose the corner with the good light, lose the shelf space completely to keep the good light, or shoehorn the bookcase back into the plan on one of the “short” walls to keep both self space and the ideal spot for reading. Right now, the leading contender is adding the chair and skipping the extra shelf. Books and direct sunlight are poison, anyway, so I’d probably be doing my future self a favor.

The next time I move there’s going to be a room designed specifically for this, but even making do with slightly odd spacing and what fits where, I think this new incarnation of the old room will be well enjoyed when it’s finished. Come to think if it, I’m pretty pleased as it’s sitting now at a touch less than half the final plan. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

Bookshelves and gin…

The wind is absolutely screaming through my woods this morning. The sky is the kind of blue you only find on fall mornings and the sun, after days of gray overcast, is dazzling. It would be a beautiful day, but that wind, though. 

The wind is the game changer for today. I’d planned on trekking south through the plague lands to secure the first couple of bookcases I need to start the long toyed-with idea of bastardizing the formal dining room into a proper library that just happens to have a dining table in it. Getting the bookcases here today was prelude to moving other furniture, doing assembly, and starting to reorient the room next week during another long stretch of days off. 

I’ve got about a year’s worth of open shelf space with my current set up. That’s room for about 60 mid-sized books. Although the shelves have been filling faster than normal thanks to the Great Plague leaving loads of extra time for reading. I don’t quite need the extra shelf space yet, but I’ll need it soon enough. 

I want to get the new flat packs on hand and ready mostly to ensure I’d have something to do during the coming nine-day weekend. I’m also enough of a forward looker to see that there’s a time in the not too distant future when I might not be able to get them in a timely manner. A time when we could find ourselves once again faced with the closure of all but essential businesses. It’s not far from the realm of the possible that we’ll follow Europe’s lead in the fall and winter as we did this past spring. I’m increasingly a fan of having anything I might need already on hand instead of hoping a beleaguered supply chain can keep up.

The wind itself isn’t the problem with today’s plan. The issue really is not wanting to find myself on the wrong side of the Susquehanna during a “wind event.” Should the windspeed touch the numbers that trigger restrictions or a closure there’s simply no good way to get back from the other side of the river. Driving deep into Pennsylvania to find a low bridge crossing simply isn’t part of today’s plan. Better to let the wind blow itself out and try again tomorrow.

It’s election eve here in America anyway. I have enough of almost everything to ride out the election and its aftermath in comfort, but I find I’m running dangerously low on good gin. Today I’ll focus on correcting that shortcoming and get back to my relentless pursuit of more bookcases tomorrow while everyone else is holding their breath. At least this way I’ll be putting both vacation days to good use.

The first step…

After a not inconsiderable amount of time spent trying to find a vendor who wanted to take my money, window blinds, at long last, have been ordered for the current dining room. I’m told things are a little backed up from their manufacturer and it could take 5-6 weeks for the order to come in. It’s a plague year. Five days. Five weeks. Whatever. Time now is uniquely fluid.

Ordering up three blinds to match what the previous owner put in every other room in the house doesn’t sound like a particularly important accomplishment. On its own, of course it isn’t… It is, however, the first step to turning the dining room into a proper library. Or at least as proper as it can be in the absence of built in shelving. Abandoning the idea of running floor to ceiling shelves around the entire room was a concession I finally convinced myself to make because in fifteen years or so I’m going to have to convince someone else to buy this place – and the demographic that wants a dining room is likely larger than that which wants storage for 3500 books.

Making the dining room into actual useful space is a not-so-secret desire I’ve harbored almost since the day I moved in. The afternoon produces long hours of nearly perfect reading light in there, but direct sun and old paper and deadly enemies. This little project is the first critical step to help reduce that potential sun damage while opening up vast new shelf feet of space for proper storage and display.

As for the rest of the plan, well, it’s a work in progress. The first really heavy lift effort will be moving the three existing bookcases to free up the longest uninterrupted wall in the room – making it ready to take four new, much larger bookcases to take their place. The three small units will still have a place in this new arrangement – at least for now.

There’s one bookcase, simple pine, currently doing duty in that room that isn’t particularly impressive, but remains sentimental because it was built by a great uncle who departed long before I made the scene. It will likely end up in my own bedroom or relegated to service in the laundry room to replace an aging particle board bookcase holding assorted canine-related odds and ends. In either case, it’s purely a matter of rank sentimentality winning out over design sensibilities and I don’t begrudge it that in any way.

The dining room table, another heirloom that couldn’t be prized from my hands for love nor money, will stay put, being pressed into service as a passable library table once its leaves are dropped. Add in a club chair or two, a low side table, maybe a Tiffany style lamp for a little glow and this place could be a respectable long term home for my fiction section. It feels like a good use of space that otherwise has virtually no function at all.

I’ve got some thoughts on replacing the current hanging light, direct and indirect lighting for the shelves, and outlet locations that will need moved, but those can wait until I can put everything else together and get a sense of how the room will work in its new role. Then we can bring in someone who’s far more competent than me to figure out the electricals. Don’t ever let it be said that I’m a man who doesn’t know his own limitations.

I’m in no great rush. Aside from adding 62 linear feet of shelf space, which is ultimately the only real critical update, I’ll bring in everything piecemeal as I find just the right bits. I’d say in a year or maybe 18 months at the outside it should be in reasonably fine shape. I won’t guarantee this will buy me another 15 years of storage space, but it’ll get me a large fraction of the way there… by then I should be next deep in planning where this whole mess ends up when we achieve our final form.

The cost of getting the job done…

I moved into my current house five years ago. Sure, the movers got everything through the door, but my job was making sure once it’s was in that it was situated in the right spot. Over the years I’ve acquired some cheats and tools – a vast collection of furniture dollies, hand carts, straps, and plastic sliders – to make moving large objects easier. Working smarter, not harder, is an absolute necessity when you’re an army of one.

I was more than capable of slinging my big oak bookcases through the house five years ago. That was 37. This morning I’m finding that getting them across the room left me twisted up in a curly que and just barely able to put down fresh water for the dogs. Yeah, I definitely pulled something. This is apparently 42. 

I still feel strong as a bull moose… and I still got the job done, though it seems there’s an increasingly high price to pay for brute strength-ing things into place. I’ve always tried to work smart, but it looks like I’ll have to work smarter yet to keep from wrecking myself.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here popping ibuprofen and and reeking of IcyHot.

I spend more time pondering shelving than is strictly reasonable…

I had one of those awkward moments this weekend. It was triggered by trying to add a book to the case and finding that particular shelf of one of my favorite authors was filled. That’s where I realized that the new bookshelves I bought for the dining room 18 months ago probably have no more than 18 months worth of space left on them. Same with the shelves in the living room. The non-fiction section in the office is all but full. No more than a years worth of space left there. So maybe 3 years of storage left between the lot of them. It’s likely less because if my habit of always having one fiction and one non-fiction title going simultaneously. None of this even takes into account the dearth of space now available on the recently installed “to be read” shelves.

I know it won’t seem like it, but I really have already curtailed the pace with which I’m adding new books to the collection. Sure, cutting that number to zero and de-accessioning some of what’s already there would resolve the ongoing issues with storage… but I’m trying to come up with solutions that I can actually live with, and not some kind of ridiculous, pie in the sky plan that has no hope of getting off the ground.

I’m left considering two long term options. Both involve, not surprisingly, adding extensive new shelving – either replacing and expanding what’s currently in the dining room or along the wall where my couch is currently situated. There’s enough space in either spot to buy a decade or more of storage at the rate I’ve been working through the collection in the last few years – about sixty books a year, or three individual shelves worth of reading material.

In my heart, it’s an easy decision – call a cabinetmaker and order up 70-100 linear feet of built-in shelving for the dining room. The heart’s bill could easily run to $5,000 or more to make it look good. My head, knowing that the current house is most likely temporary (although long-term temporary), would advise just laying on ten more Billy’s from Ikea – a cost that we could reasonably expect to hold under $1,000… although it would never look as nice as having the job done properly.

If you think I don’t have doodles showing the library with a few attached bedrooms and a kitchen I want to build in retirement, you likely haven’t ever heard me talk about books. I’m going to live here in this house for another 16 years, though. As much as I’d love a room filled with built-ins, what losing a dining room to gain a proper library would mean when it comes time to sell weighs on me. More shelving is going to happen, the only question really is whether I can get past my inherent reluctance to tinker permanently with bones of a house that eventually will need to appeal to more than my own sense of what goes where. Fortunately, I’ve still got a little time to consider the options.

Problems in the stack…

There should be someone whose job it is to follow me around and keep me from wandering in to used book shops and spending a ridiculous amount of money. Since that job apparently does not exist, I’m left to my own devices… and since there are so very few things that truly spark joy in my heart, the chance of my ever willingly turning this one off feels awfully slim.

Since I’m not going to stay out of book shops and I’m definitely not going to hire someone to slap books out of my hands, it seems my dad plans on filling in the gap a little bit. We talk just abiout every weekend and one of the first questions he asked this past Sunday was when the hell I’d actually be reading the three boxes of books I brought home on Saturday. Uh. Well. Eventually. Probably. It definitely wasn’t the time to admit to the books that have been lurking around on my to be read shelf for years already. I had been seen, no question about it.

The sad fact is, the “to be read” stack – TBR if you spend time in the subreddits on book accumulating – has grown so quickly over the last two or three years that I really do need to slow down the pace of acquisition… and I think I’ve come up with a plan on how to do that without pretending that I can just stop cold turkey.

Now that I’ve admitted there’s a potential problem, the most likely way ahead is to narrow the apparure of what’s coming in to the collection. I can get after that in two ways – first, by concentrating on finishing out sets of authors I know I enjoy reading and second, by increasing the mimimum acceptable condition of what I’m putting on the shelf. Neither of those constraints will stop the flow, but combined they should slow it down to a more manageable level.

So now that I’m resolved to be a more targeted buyer, there’s also the possibility that I’ll wade into the stacks and cull some of the one offs, random books, and items I’ve intentionally passed over for years. It shouldn’t be terribly hard to pick off 20 or 30 titles that looked terribly interesting at the time, but that have been overwhelmed by the incoming tide since then. At this point anything that frees up shelf space and gives the collection a bit more of a focused feel is probably a good thing overall.

So this is my life now…

I picked up a dirt cheap pressboard bookcase at Walmart 18 months ago that has already started falling apart. I added another, bigger, better unit a while after that, but the anti-library, the books I’ve got stacked up waiting for a chance to read, is once again spilling off the shelves and creeping ’round the walls in the spare room. Sure, you might say I have a bit of a problem, but when I’m picking most of these books up, in hardback, for a buck or two a piece, it’s not exactly like I’m out on the streets looking for heroin. In terms of problems, it’s hardly the worst one I could find myself suffering from.

A reasonable person would probably just slow down a little – maybe work through some of the backlog before bringing anything new into the inventory. That’s a sound, logical approach. And it’s not at all how the mind of a book collector works. I’ve already had to take a pass on sifting through a couple of collections for the gems and that mostly just breaks my heart.

The time to make a purchase, especially those from yard sales, thrift shops, estate sales, and used book stores, is when you see something. A piece of any quality is almost sure to be gone the next time you walk through the doors. Some items you’ll probably never lay eyes on again given the vagaries of how things ebb and flow into the secondhand marketplace. Miss them and they’re gone.

I’ve been hoping to pick off some bookcases of opportunity from yard sales or junk shops for the last few months, but haven’t found anything that really suits the requirement. Unfortunately, I think that means this weekend I’ll be giving in to the home storage juggernaut that is Ikea. I don’t particularly love their stark white aesthetic, but the kind of cabinets I desperately need right now aren’t for display purposes. I need storage space measured in linear feet, capable of gulping down fifteen or twenty hardback books at a time. The standard Billy bookcase isn’t what I’d call pretty, but it’s functional, expandable, and affordable, which is precisely the niche I need to hit at the moment.

So it turns out this is my life now – the relentless pursuit of books and bookcases in which to store them is how I’ll be spending the rest of my days.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

​1. The “to read” pile. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve always had a problem with acquiring books. For most of my adult life it’s been manageable largely because I moved every couple of years and shipping large boxes of books gets expensive. I had an incentive to purge the shelves from time to time. After settling in at Fortress Jeff, though, moving every three years didn’t become much of a threat. What we have now is a collection of books that I want to read, but just haven’t gotten around to yet. The shelf I bought to store this unread library is already filled to capacity and spilling out across the floor. It’s a hot mess. I read an article recently that argued your “to read” pile should always be larger than the collection you’ve already read because it reflects your goals as well as you’ve accomplished… but I’m fairly sure they were thinking about books that teach you things and not a shelf filled with detective novels you’re going to get to at some point. If I were slightly less compulsive about displaying books-as-conquests I could probably have convinced myself to get a library card or fully embrace e-books. Now with no physical check on how many is too many, I fully expect the pile to get worse long before it gets better. I need to either make more time or learn to read faster.

2. Geography. I got a notice that something I ordered online has shipped and was expected on time for delivery. I was apoplectic to see that it was scheduled for delivery “tomorrow” but was sitting quietly in New Jersey. It turns out that even after being here for more than seven years it’s hard to remember that this part of Maryland is about 25 feet from New Jersey and items might not take a week to get here from there.

3. Facial recognition. Monday afternoon I was having trouble getting my phone to unlock with facial recognition. Having to manually enter a six digit password is so 2000-and-something. It was annoying. In displaying my annoyance to the phone, I inevitable scowled at it… at which point the fucking thing immediately opened. Apparently that really is “just how I look.” Frankly, though, I’m a little surprised the infernal contraption didn’t also require me to roll my eyes.