Wednesday, January 11, 2012

One for the books: Aug. 2, 2009

When I was a kid I got in trouble all the time for reading. Which sounds ridiculous. But I read when I was supposed to be doing other things. I propped up books behind my math assignments and hid them under social studies worksheets. I faked injuries so I could read lying on the floor of the gym while everyone else did sit-ups. I read while I ate. I read when I was supposed to be asleep. 

Even now, I read when I should be doing other things. I read instead of cleaning. I read instead of disciplining my obnoxious children. So these bookshelves were a really big damn deal.

My beloved books are back from foyer limbo

    For more than two years, I have been separated from my books.

    I think most people who enjoy reading would find this difficult. But I don't enjoy reading; I am obsessed with reading. I'd rather read than do anything else, ever. Which makes me, technically, a world-class bore. But, oh boy, do I have full-blown universes churning in my head that you would not believe, and y'all, I can spout some prose.

    So I haven't found being separated from my books difficult as much as I have found it agonizing and miserable. I haven't been unhappy about it; I've been wretched and forlorn.

The east wing of the library.
    But at the end of 2006, we had to pack all our stuff into storage. And in the spring of 2007, we dragged all our stuff to our new house. But our new house had no bookshelves, so my books sat in boxes in the foyer. Lots and lots of boxes in the foyer. Tall stacks of boxes, leaning precariously in the foyer.

    "I'll make you some built-in bookshelves for the foyer," said my husband, the talented carpenter. "I'll put cabinets on the bottom. And maybe some file storage."

    "Yay," I said. "I would love that. You are my hero." (Or words to that effect.)

    Well, here is the thing about being married to a talented carpenter: Everyone else wants him to build them some bookshelves, too. Bookshelves and mantels and pantries and desks with clever hidden storage. And they pay him, which is something I absolutely love to see.

    So every time my talented carpenter husband would suspect that he might have a place in his schedule to spend a little time on my bookshelves, we would have this conversation: "Well, if so-and-so wants you to build such-and-such, you should probably do that first because this-and-that bill needs paying. We'll do the bookshelves after that."

Ben visits the library.
    And so my big, leaning stack of books-in-boxes got dusty in the foyer. And then little piles of books started accumulating on top of the boxes because I was opening some of the boxes and rummaging around and trying to find specific books, which is a fool's game, and then getting exasperated and going to McKay's to buy another copy of whatever it was I was hunting. Copies I would then set on top of the stack of boxes -- a stack that soon became known as 'the library.'

    "Do you like my library?" I would ask visitors, gesturing toward my leaning pile of dusty boxes topped by a growing, sliding layer of loose books. "My filing system is very evolved."

    And this went on for two years until, wonder of wonders, the entire economy exploded, everyone's home equity lines of credit evaporated, my husband's little carpentry business floundered and then collapsed and my bookshelves became the only thing on his to-do list.

Yay Jim. You are my hero. Or words to that effect.
    These are not ideal circumstances, I will grant you. But a girl with any sense will take what she can get.

    In June, my husband started working on my shelves, and I set about unpacking my books. My intention was to create a stack to give away and stack to keep. I unpacked about half the boxes and came up with four books to give away and roughly 300 to keep. That system may need some refining.

    At this point, I have made it about halfway through my boxes, and now I have a series of stacks of loose books taking up a third of the dining room, in addition to the greatly reduced (and far less dusty) pile of boxes in the foyer.

    It may sound tedious, but the unpacking process has been a joy. Each title, each author, each cover, reminds me of bits of vivid phrasing, pieces of plotlines, layers of inspired language that had me reading the same lines over and over.

    The writers I find most inspiring are the ones who leave me afflicted with envy, scribbling exclamation points in margins and turning down the corners of pages so I can revisit their most effective moments.

    It's been a bit of a gift, the chance to rediscover the contents of my library -- like going to a big, diverse reunion where only people you like show up.

    There is, of course, a downside to all this. After all, my reunion with my books is a direct result of the exploding economy and my husband's dormant business. But I'm operating on the assumption that things will get better, and this will just turn out to be a convenient opportunity to get my shelves built. I assume he'll eventually be building things for actual customers again.

    But not too soon -- not just yet. Because I'd really hate to see those carefully sorted stacks in our dining room begin to show dust and become the library annex.

Cue the trumpets.
Jim and his finished project. (On Halloween.)
Sorry, ladies. He's all mine. 

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