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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Brand new paving. You spent many weeks this spring pushing traffic into one lane or another so you could pave the one route into town. Then you promptly cut a hole in this nice new paving and laid down steel plates that have been there for the last three weeks. Solid work that.

2. Sleep. I use to comment that I didn’t sleep long but at least I slept well. I can’t even claim that lately. Tossing. Turning. Dumbass dreams that I can’t quite remember but know I had. It’s the opposite of restful. Of course it’s not every night, but lately it’s been more than it hasn’t and that’s a problem.

3. Shelving. I can buy a reasonably priced couch. I can buy a reasonably priced mattress. I can even buy a reasonably priced car. When it’s time to buy a bookcase my options are include the used market where most will be best to Hell and no two will match, go to Ikea for a product that will inevitable bend and warp under the weight of hardbacks stacked on them, paying the Amish $1500 for a basic unit, or hiring a carpenter for $8500 to build a whole unit in place. It just seems to me that finding a reasonably priced place for your books to live shouldn’t involve a months long exhaustive search.