In my dream house, I would have a library: walls of floor-to-ceiling, glass-fronted bookcases. In reality I have six open bookcases and a woodstove, a dust procreator. Periodically I remove all the books, vacuum the top edges of them, wipe them, and cull out the books I don’t need to keep. It is my favorite cleaning project: old friends are fondly acknowledged, unread books are opened and sighed over. There are discoveries and dialogs. Yes, I talk to myself.
Here then, are my thoughts while cleaning and shelving books.
• What discoveries! Many books have Post-it flags dotted across the top; I found (and removed) other forms of bookmarks. One square of toilet tissue. A white plastic flosser. A register receipt. Bear that in mind if you want to borrow my books.
• I moved Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare from the Shakespeare shelf down to the kids’ books on the bottom. All things Greece gave up the glorious Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of The Iliad and The Wanderings of Odysseus to the same location. Which prompts me to say how much I love the illustrations of Alan Lee.
• There is the problem of the Norton Anthologies. What if? I whisper. What if? I repeat. What if I started working through these, reading sections in between other books? I pick one up and flip to the last page. Page 2579. Well, that’s a happy thought, I conclude.
• I love the idea, and occasionally the practice, of deep reading. Reading through all the works of a great author. Ignatius Press has issued The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton. How I would love to own all 36 volumes! Seven are still to be published. But I have Volume 1 on my shelf; I remember the splurge of purchasing it at Twice Read Books in Chambersburg, PA. Even though I haven’t read all of Volume 1, I like to imagine having read all 29 published volumes.
• The internet has made so many reference books redundant. Take The New York Public Library Desk Reference. I imagine that every tasty bit of information (TBOI, for short) could be found online. But oh, what a glorious source of whimsical reading. And how many hours have I enjoyed between the covers of TNYPLDR. Browsing isn’t the same online. Alas, it is on the “out” pile.
• I couldn’t just dust the art books without some lookie-loos. Winslow Homer, I love you.
• I’ve been called a Grammar Nazi a few times lately, a label I protest. This shelf, however, tells a different story.
What tales do your bookshelves tell?