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.

Three thousand…

Managing the public archive has gotten significantly easier since I went through a mad tear of consolidating several different blog platforms into this one WordPress account. I can tell from the handy dashboard that shows me everything from daily views to most searched phrases and what keywords are likely to be bringing people here that the number of posts here has now swelled to 3,000.

It’s a nice round number. It’s the kind of milestone or way-marker I enjoy hitting. It shows me that regardless of that somewhat ephemeral nature of the internet, there’s a transaction record of sorts showing that I have, in fact, done a thing – even if that thing isn’t exactly the great American novel.

Sometimes I think I’d like to spend some time going back to the early days and do a bit of reading – sort of a look back at where it all started. I’ve got a bit of real curiosity about what may have changed over the last thirteen years. Or maybe I’m more likely to find that I’ve refined and expounded my ideas a bit since then, but many of them are still found firmly rooted in the soil from which they sprung originally.

From time to time someone asks why I do this. I’m not monetizing the site. In fact I pay a noiminal fee every year to prevent adds from appearing here at all. Like I wrote up there in the “About Me” section many, may years ago, anything written and posted here isn’t necessarily done with an eye towards an audience. It’s done almost exclusively to vent my own frustrations and petty annoyances. Knowing that, the fact that so many of you hang around for the ride is downright humbling.

Time well spent…

With a few minor exceptions, yesterday’s activities were very close to how I’d describe spending a perfect day.

I started out in the pre-dawn darkness, the dogs happily sniffing and snorting, and running off a bit of overnight energy while I loaded the first cup of coffee onboard. Transition inside to making a simple breakfast – eggs, toast and jelly, more coffee, and scarfing it away while watching some obscure documentary and occasionally correcting the presenter on the finer points of early 1900s political life in America.

Then there was reading… and making lunch… and more reading… and then making dinner… and more reading to cap off the day.

My perch changed, depending on what room was getting “the good light” at any given time. It was too humid a day to risk the books being outdoors, so that’s maybe the one real downside of the day.

The whole effort was interspaced with ear scratches, and belly rubs, being turned into an occasional climbing post for the resident cat, or getting momentarily distracted by some of the background noise on the television and the occasional trip outside to supervise the dogs.

There were coffee drinks and whiskey drinks when I was thirsty and home cooked meals when I was hungry. There was, other than the ones I placed on myself, absolutely no demands on my time at all. For one full day, I did exactly what I wanted to do without outside interference – or thinking about what I needed to do on the next day.

It was, in a word, idyllic. It was time well spent. It was exactly how I’d spend my days if the world didn’t conspire to fill it with other, far more monotonous and far less interesting, activities.

Time enough at last or: Reconsidering the universal basic income…

While trying to take care of some online housekeeping over the weekend, I stumbled upon one of my old Amazon wishlists – one that stretched back a decade or more. The titles listed were definitely “on brand” for what I like to read. I’m nothing if not consistent.

For someone with a full time job and a household to run, I like to think I consume written material at a respectable rate (especially given I have no claim on speed reading). There’s not much down time here that doesn’t find me with a book in my hand. There’s nothing to make my efforts feel inadequate quite like seeing page after page of titles I still want to read, but haven’t gotten around to yet. Worse yet, they’re the ones I haven’t even gotten around to grabbing up a copy of yet. That puts them deeply in the “who the hell knows when or if I’ll get to them” category.

Maybe I should reconsider my whole position on the universal basic income. Not needing to do annoying things like earn a living would really free up the kind of time I need to work through the backlog here. Sure, it creates a whole host of secondary problems and unintended consequences, but it seems that’s what it’s going to take to find time enough at last.

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. I try to read for an hour before going to bed every night. It’s a habit I’ve been in for years. Lately, though, my eyes are so tired and scratchy that it’s impossible to do comfortably. Since I regularly have my eyes checked and there’s no apparent problem with them, I can only assume the amount of screen time, reading, and writing I do during the rest of the day is catching up with me by the time I’m ready to kick back with a few chapters of the book of the moment.

2. Character assassination. When you attack someone’s character, I have no idea how you can reasonably be surprised when they push back at you hard. Accuse me of something I didn’t do and you’re damned right I’m going to get vocal about it… but when it’s being fronted by holier than thou members of Congress with their 16% approval rating, well, they deserve every every cross word and glare sent in their direction. Being told to defend yourself by proving a negative in the absence of any actual evidence against you has got to be an immensely maddening situation. Reacting with feigned shock when a man speaks out in his own defense in that situation is appalling.

3. Rain. For Christ’s sake can we just get a 48 hour break from all the damned rain. The back yard is such a mud pit that I’d be better off opening a brick-making factory than pretending to even think about fall yard work.