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.

Annual dusting…

I love books. I love the way they feel in my hand. I love the way ink looks on the page. I love the entirely unique smell a room takes on when it’s full of books. 

Much as I love them, there’s one book-related task that I dread among all others. It’s the annual dusting of the books… and I’m in the midst of that particularly onerous task now. That means physically taking each one off the shelf, dusting it, making sure there’s no unexpected wear or damage, and putting it back. It’s not a complicated endeavor, but it’s intensely repetitive – one that I’m bound to repeat at least 1100 times across 15 different bookcases over the next few days.

It would be easy enough to let it go. I mean with very few exceptions you can’t even see the top edge of a book sitting on a shelf. The dust finds its way in there though… and I shudder to think what that build up might look like in another ten or fifteen years when I have a reason to do another wholesale move. I’ve seen too many books offered for sale, otherwise pristine, that were caked with top edge gunk from untold years of not being tended.

I like to think that these books will outlive me – going on to reside elsewhere, with someone who values them as I do, on the inevitable day when this collection must be broken up. Unless I come up with a better process, it means keeping up with the dusting.

From my admittedly biased position, it’s literally the only down side of having hundreds or thousands of texts at your fingertips. 

That time I was attacked by Churchill…

I pulled the first volume of Churchill’s Marlborough off the shelf last night. It’s been on the “want to read” list for a long time. I picked up this copy for $1 at a thrift shop eighteen months or two years ago. It was missing its dust jacket, but looked otherwise in fine shape. It came from a massive haul of books they’d cleaned out from an estate, all of them sans dust jackets. Some collectors are like that… for reasons I will never grasp.

I couldn’t help but notice as I plucked the book from the shelf that the binding of this particular volume was slightly… fuzzy. There were spots of white “fuzz” happily growing on the cloth cover. Like a peach. Except not at all, because it was awful.

It’s the undeniable presence of mold. Mold. In my stacks. Attacking at least one of my books. Bloody Norah. If I sound only mildly outraged, believe me that it’s simply because this method of communication is not fully expressing the depth of my agitation.

The book is perfectly dry. It’s not got any signs of water damage. It doesn’t even have the telltale stench of molding books. But it must have been stored in the damp somewhere, somehow long before it arrived home with me.

It could probably be saved, but it’s a later printing and not particularly worth the effort or potential danger of it further spreading the mold of the cleaning is less than perfect. It had to be culled and turned out to where it can do no more damage.

Good copies of Churchill’s books, particularly the early editions, race upwards into four and five digit territory very quickly, even for copies that have been battered a bit. This isn’t one of those, so it’s not much of a sacrifice. Maybe casting it out will give me the chance to scout out a rough survivor from the 1930s at something approaching a “reasonable” price.

With that said, if anyone wants to start a GoFundMe, I do know where there’s a very pretty four volume set of first edition Marlborough’s for just $5,500. If you’d like to spend $2,000 more, we could have the set inscribed by WSC to his godson. Alternatively, should anyone feel particularly generous, during this, my time time of need, we can shoot for the 49 volume, uniformly bound first edition collection of his major works currently on offer for $54,000 and change. I’d even be willing to pick up the $19.61 shipping to bring them over from London.

It’s a happy dream… but in reality I’ll be spending a good portion of this weekend pulling things off the shelves to make sure nothing else has been infected or stopping it before it spreads any further. To think that some people say I don’t know how to have a good time.

The up side of the Great Plague…

My undying love of all things Buffy the Vampire Slayer is well known. I suppose it was only a matter of time before that abiding adoration found its way onto my book shelves.  A fluke thrift shop find about a year ago spurred me towards putting together a complete set of Buffy novels. Let me start off by saying there are a lot of them – and I mean an absolute shit ton – and that’s before you start into the cadet branches of the written Buffyverse. They’re short, written for the young adult demo, and don’t take up all that much space on a shelf. War and Peace they aren’t, but they’re fun reads layered on to a fictional universe that I enjoy spending time in. 

One of the keys to collecting (as opposed to hoarding) is starting off with some idea of what the final collection should look like. I opted to focus my attention on the “main stem” books – and excluding the novelizations of the actual TV show, books from the Angel series, and a handful of choose-your-own-adventure style books (that were wildly overpriced in fine condition anyway). I closed the loop on that collecting effort about a month ago. A few pieces are in rougher shape than I’d like – cracked spines, loose pages, etc. – but I found them cheap and they’ll do until I can replace them with better copies. In any case, now that I have them, I’m slowly enjoying injecting these books periodically into the reading list.

A few days ago, I noticed something unusual happening. The collector sites were starting to show an unusual volume of items for sale rather than just collectors showing off their finds for one another. Some heavy-duty collectors were slowly starting to turn loose of their wares – and the prices were maybe not quite at the fire sale level, but they were markedly lower than the same items would have commanded months ago. In light of the current situation, I’ve opened the scope of my hoard collection to encompass many of those titles that I had formerly excluded. A few of these them are currently trundling towards me via post even as I write this.

So, the Great Plague is bad, sure, but let us not completely ignore its up side here. Now I just need to find someone who needs to turn loose of their prop replica Scythe at a price that doesn’t require drawing a personal loan. Sure, a scythe doesn’t exactly fit into a book collection, but if people are determined to sell off the good stuff I’ll have to do my best to be a buyer and prop up the economy where I can. 

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.

Just one more…

One of the great problems I face with reading is that I’ve done enough of it over the years to start racking up a number of favored authors who I love for their writing or their area of focus or both. If those authors are still alive and active, I have a tendency to want to read whatever new material they publish. I suppose that’s only really a “problem” if you already have 150+ books sitting in your “to be read” pile… that didn’t cost $20 or more to order new from Amazon.

That’s not in any way an admission that I didn’t just pre-order the new Harry Turtledove novel, but I will confess to feeling mildly guilty about it. Although you shouldn’t think for a minute that it’s anywhere near the level of guilt that might result in cancelling the order.

I love to read, but I’m not a speed reader by any stretch of the imagination. In an average year I get through 50-60 books. At some point, I’m probably going to have to come to terms with the fact that there simply isn’t enough time to read everything I want to get through. There probably isn’t time for that in several dozen lifetimes.

A less acquisitive person might see this realization as a reason to slow down on purchases and maybe try to catch up – just a little bit – on what’s already stored for future reading. Me? Well, I prefer to just go ahead and rationalize my behavior. I’m fortunate to not have particularly expensive hobbies. I’m not pouring away money on golf or boating. I mean, it only stands to reason that I’m more likely to get to something that’s already in hand, so really I guess there isn’t a problem with tucking just one more thing onto the stack.

That book life…

Last week I finished reading a book, The Gentle Madness, that outlined the lives of some of the great book collectors and personal libraries assembled over the last five hundred years. It also covered how many of those libraries were broken up over time – sold off in toto or in part, lost to fire, stolen, gifted to public institutions, or released back into the wild through glittering auctions. These were the “important” libraries of history – the first printed books, manuscripts on velum, hand-copied tracts carefully illuminated by monks in the Middle Ages – the incredibly rare and the magnificently expensive. These were the libraries of royal dukes and titans of the industrial age.

It makes me extraordinarily happy that such collectors and such libraries even exist. Even so, I walk away from that read feeling just a little bit sad – mostly because, unless there’s a multi-state lottery jackpot in my future I’ll never be able to possess books like that. I’ll never have the opportunity to walk into a room filled with five hundred year old volumes and revel in their smell and feel and the sheer joy of knowing that for just a short slice of history I am custodian of such rarities.

I love books. I love being surrounded by them. If I had but the funds, I’d like nothing more than to assemble a first rate, proper library – old classics well made and maintained dating back from the dawn of printing and beyond. Given the reality of not having fabulous mountains of wealth, mine is a simple working collection of books.  It’s hardly worthy to be considered a library at this point – just 500 or so volumes of history mixed with fiction, some government and politics, and a few outliers straying into sociology. Hardly a blip when compared to some of the lions of book collecting, whose personal libraries swelled to hundreds of thousands of books.

I read what interests me at the moment, acknowledging that it would be impossible to dive down every rabbit hole – or even one tenth of the rabbit holes given the limitations of time. Sure there are a few modern first editions living in places of honor on my shelf. There are a few well worn favorites that I keep coming back to time and again. If nothing else, I can at least claim that every book that ends up on one of my shelves is one that I’ve read. Nothing earns its spot there simply for decoration or adornment.

I could save a shitload of money if I were just able to borrow books from the public library like a normal person. I’m touched lightly by that gentle madness, though. The books possess me at least as much as I possess them… and I don’t mind it even a little bit.