To Build a Bookshelf


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Another episode in the wake of the great water heater flood of 2013
Saturday I built a bookshelf. That statement may evoke visions of sawing, hammering, sanding, staining and lovingly polishing, of creating something unique from a few pieces of raw wood. Wow, that Sue is so talented. You can smell the sawdust, can’t you?
But no. I tore open a long heavy Home Depot box delivered by the UPS guy, removed a ton of foam rubber and cardboard packing material, laid out pieces of wood-finished pressboard and a baggie of screws, nails, dowels and brackets, and started putting it all together. Each part was lettered, and the screw holes were already drilled. I just had to follow steps one through six on the instruction sheet with the added attraction of learning how the same instructions would be translated into Spanish and French. Tools required: one hammer, one screwdriver, and two people. I made do with one human and a dog.
You may recall that my previous bookshelves got wet when my water heater gushed water all over my laundry room and den a month ago. The water damage experts sent out by my insurance company declared the shelves deceased and tossed them into the front yard, to be taken to the dump. They sat there for three weeks before my neighbor got sick of looking at them, hacked them up with an ax and burned them in his fire pit. We had a nice visit while I watched my bookshelves turn to ashes. In replacing them, the insurance company would only cover shelves that were similarly inexpensive, hence the fake-wood bookshelf kits.  
It sounds mindless, but after I carefully nailed the backing on with 22 little nails and tilted the shelf up to admire my work, I discovered the backing was on backwards. Oh no! Did I mention I’m not mechanically gifted? I had to lay the shelf back down on the throw rug on the bare concrete of my damaged den and take out 22 little nails I had hammered in good and tight.
I had brought the bookshelf components from the garage to the den one or two pieces at a time because I couldn’t lift the 75-pound box, and I couldn’t think of anywhere big enough to assemble a six-foot tall, five-shelf monster except on the floor. Oh my aching knees and back. Luckily, I had the TV to entertain me. It took a movie, “Monster-in-Law” with Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda, plus an episode of “Friends”—the one where Monica and Chandler get approved to adopt a baby—but I got it done. I got parts A, C, C1, G, G2, F, P and P1 all in the right places. Why weren’t there any B’s, D, E’s or H through O’s?
Anyway, the shelf is up. It doesn’t match much of anything. Why did I order royal cherry “wood?” But it’s pretty. I’m dying to put books on it, but I can’t until I get my carpet, which is scheduled to be installed on Oct. 2, hopefully after the water damage guys finish patching and painting the closet. The books will remain on the kitchen floor, on the guest room floor and bed, stacked in the living room, and tucked here and there in the laundry room. I’m only moving them once.
I have three more shelves to build. I find the whole process fascinating. The kits are sheer genius with all those perfectly matched parts. But yesterday, when an unemployed friend at church offered to build the rest of the shelves for me, I said yes. Why should I hog all the fun?

Help, my books are loose and taking over!


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?