Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Books, Books Everywhere But Not Room to Read

There was an article in Friday's Slate online magazine ( about book collecting.

The author, Jacob Weisburg, described an interview with a man who identified himself as an "ex-collector" of books. Weisburg says, "I'm an ambivalent collector myself. I also know that there's really no such thing as an ex-collector, any more than there are ex-alcoholics or ex-gamblers. You may be staying off the stuff, but the twitch never goes away."

Boy, did that hit me where I live. Literally "where I live." You see, my obsession for accumulating books--I wouldn't be so arrogant as to describe my efforts as "collecting" books--has determined where I've lived for much of my adult life. After college, I started out in a one-bedroom apartment in Clearwater, Florida just a stone's throw from the Scientologists. Since I couldn't afford a real bookcase, I bought and finished pine boards from Home Depot; then painted cinder blocks and assembled a series of shelves that were eight feet long and eight feet high. When I moved from there, I sold my "bookcase" for twenty dollars.

My next step-up was to a two-bedroom apartment in Dallas, Texas, where my roommate had to put up with two of my bookcases in his space. This duplex was a roomy affair--two stories with over 1,300 square feet. It took me quite some time to fill it with books.

I now live in a three-bedroom home. When the moving men discovered there were 140 book boxes to be transported, they shook their heads in disbelief. One of them said to me, "You're a teacher, huh?" The other said, "Naw, we've moved teachers before. Your bookstore went out of business, right?"

This time around, I created a study so that, when I'm working, I'm surrounded by my books. There's something really comforting to me about sitting in the center of a room with seven-foot tall bookshelves. My study houses the non-fiction part of my accumulation with psychology directly behind my chair, true crime/criminal behavior in front of me and language reference across the room.

I'm an eclectic accumulator. I love reference books. Instead of buying shoes like most women, I buy reference books. I have shelves and shelves of historical and geographical texts, not to mention writers' reference books. I also have a fairly large group of biblical references (bible histories, atlases, dictionaries and so forth). They're not shelved anywhere near my vampire and witchcraft collection.

At some point, I'm either going to have to begin selling off some of these books or start hunting for a four-bedroom house. It will be a tough call when that day comes.

Weisberg concludes his article: "The book has had a good run. For 550 years it was the most practical way to deliver writing to multiple readers. But over the coming decades, we're likely to discover that it is not the only or the best way. By the time Google Print gets done digitizing the Bodleian Library, we will all be used to zapping novels electronically; humans will be reading them on screens, in forms that take up no space, travel anywhere, and undergo no decay. But as the Gutenberg era draws to a close, books take on greater magic as artifacts. What no longer serves as technology lives on as art."

Guess I'd better begin watching the real estate ads.


Sherrill Quinn said...

I am so there, Maya. Not to the extent that you are, but the last time I moved the guys kept muttering about all the boxes (most of which, it seemed, were books). Especially for a single person, they muttered.

I know that, once I make it through my TBR file and save a few "keepers", I'm gonna have to figure out where to put them, cuz I'm out of shelf space.

David Garcea said...

Wow, that's a lot of books. I have always felt guilty about buying books at a faster rate than I could read them, which inevitably leads to a large queue of books that are waited to be read. Every time I go into a bookstore, I remind myself of how many books I have at home (in my office, my bedroom, and my living room) waiting to be read, but it still doesn't stop me from wanting more.