Books, books, everywhere books. History books. Writing books. Creative nonfiction. Novels. Poetry. Books I wrote. Books my friends wrote. Books I wish I wrote. When they’re all stuffed in the shelves, it’s not so bad, but I had a little disaster last week. My water heater gave out. I woke up Tuesday morning to find water all over my laundry room, leaking across the concrete floor and under the dog crate, the recycle bin, the cabinet and the refrigerator. I waited most of the day for a plumber, who declared the water heater dead and replaced it with a new one.
I thought: okay, end of story. I didn’t realize until Wednesday night when I happened to walk barefoot in the den that the carpet was wet and squishy. You see, the laundry room and den used to be the garage. A former owner converted it into living space. Right now I’m kind of wishing he hadn’t done that. The water had leaked under the wall from the laundry room into the den, mostly along the wall lined with book shelves. Four five-shelf units, each six feet tall, 30 inches wide and full of books. Stuffed is a better word. And those are just the ones I’ve read.
In order to get to the carpet, I had to move the bookshelves. In order to move the bookshelves, I had to unload them. Unshelved, the books expanded like rice in boiling water. So now I have books in every room of my house, including the bathrooms. I have no place to sit in the living room except the dog’s chair or the floor. The soggy den is completely off limits, full of wet carpets and big dryers.
I spent Thursday moving books and blotting the carpet with towels. Washed and dried said towels five times then realized this didn’t help the padding underneath at all. Called the insurance company. Waited all day Friday for return calls. Their crew came out Saturday. First thing they did was declare the bookshelves dead. Made of pressboard, they were soaked on the bottom. Pieces of soggy pressboard fell off as two hefty guys carried them to the front yard and left them to await a trip to the dump. The insurance company will reimburse me for new bookshelves of comparable value. But it’s going to be a while before the room can be occupied again.
Meanwhile, I’m drowning in books. A quick estimate tells me at least 500 books are left homeless. That doesn’t count the ones that live in other shelves or boxes or drawers. Every time I’ve moved, my friends and relatives have complained about the books. “Jeez, how many books do you need?” they ask.
In the house where I grew up, there weren’t many books. One little shelf in the living room held a couple Bibles, cookbooks, knitting books, and a set of encyclopedias acquired one at a time at the grocery store back in the 1960s. It’s not that we didn’t read. We read constantly, but we got our books at the library. On the rare occasion when a book was purchased or received as a gift, we passed one copy around the family. Now I probably buy three or four books a month, and I keep all the ones I like, so they add up quickly. I have been meaning to go back and reread the books on the shelves to see if I still want them, but never had time. Now I’m forced to cull my collection.
I’m looking at these homeless books on my couch, my floor, my washing machine, every flat surface, and thinking maybe I should give all of them away. How often do I actually look at them? They’re weighing me down. Is this a home or a library?
I have quite a few e-books on my Kindle. With e-readers, there’s no need for bookshelves. I can store hundreds of books on something that fits in my purse. And if something happens to my Kindle, Amazon.com will magically transfer all my books to my new e-reading device. But it’s not the same. You can’t smell an e-book, can’t autograph it, can’t read it in the bathtub. And I don’t think my e-books will be around decades from now like many of the books on my shelves.
Meanwhile, I have books all over my house. The Lick library. If you want to borrow one or two or a dozen, come on over. My rates are incredibly cheap, and I’ll even give you a homemade chocolate chip cookie as a bonus.
What do you think? How many books do you own? How many books does a person need?