Most people who know me assume that my first outing in a new home, assuming I’m not low on gasoline, is to obtain a library card. Not so much. Oh, I eventually do, and I venerate libraries much as you might imagine, considering that the written word has been essential in my life since the aftermath of the Watts riots. (I was pushing age 2, and thus on the verge of learning to read. I do not remember learning to read; by my earliest awareness, reading was something I took for granted.)
My family helped this along. When I was about four, my Great-Great-Aunt Nell (whose little sister was my great-grandmother) gave us a full set of 1955 World Book encyclopedias. Before I went off to kindergarten, I had read them. I continued to do this through high school. The encyclopedia was my first library, if you will–a place where I could always go and find reading, an inexhaustible well of enjoyment.
Aunt Nell is nearly half a century gone now, her little niece who is my grandmother is ninety-five, and I often wonder if Aunt Nell had the faintest idea what her gift would do. Giving her credit for the wisdom of an educator who lived to be ancient, perhaps she knew precisely what she was doing. If Aunt Nell could or can see how it all played out, I believe she would be pleased.
In adulthood, surprising no one, I ended up with a lot of books. By age thirty-five, I needed about fifty linear feet of six-foot-high shelving in order to house most of them. My office was right outside the library, so when I went to work, I walked past the stacks. The library gave me reading material, emotional comfort, and a sense of home. I didn’t very often go to a local library simply because I liked mine better.
When it came time to move, and the library was dismantled, I had to leave for a few hours while the packers worked. And once it was gone, that was no longer home to me. If a residence has my wife and my books, it is fully home. If neither, it’s glorified camping. I made the mistake of sharing my honest feelings about that on Facebook, and was mocked for it by acquaintances, which taught me why you never ever share anything on Facebook when you are authentically vulnerable, especially if you know as many callous wiseasses as I do. On Facebook, always be ready in case someone says something mockingly scornful, because they’ll do it when you can least handle it, convinced of their towering wit and that there is never a time not to show it off. And they know beyond doubt that if you don’t think they’re funny right then, you should just get over it. It does not occur to them that you might instead just get over them.
Can you tell that I’m coming to care less and less about making people happy on Facepalm? Maybe the best way to deal with obnoxiousness that shows one no consideration is to stop showing it unreciprocated consideration, and just tell it what you really think.
Or maybe I am simply aging past the point of tiptoeing around people in life.
Three years and two states later, I again live with my wife, and can set up the library once again. My little Alexandria.
For a number of reasons, this time we abandoned the breezeblock-and-lumber method. In that situation, the shelves actually cost almost as much to move as the books, and that’s just stupid. Plus, my wife hated them. When your wife picks out a house with a space specifically in mind for your library, and embraces the concept, and you do not meet her halfway by designing the library in a way that will please her, you are an ungrateful and selfish sod. Setup could not begin until we got the floors done, so that delayed us six weeks, but now it’s under way.
This means seventeen Ikea bookshelves, interspersed with six knicknack shelves so that my wife can display doodads and small items. The room is what most people would use as a large den or game room, 15′ x 20′. It will have a big leather recliner plus a couple other comfortable chairs, the bare wall adorned with maps and my wife’s artwork, daisychained lamps to illuminate the aisles, and eventually French doors. (These are more my wife’s idea. If the doors are French, do they go on strike once a week, as ancient French custom specifies? Mes amis français, qu’est-ce qu’on pense ?)
Since most of the boxes of books are piled in the library, this means some creative thinking in terms of setup. One needs physical space for bookshelves, yet one cannot put up any more until one puts some books on shelves. I decided to just put whichever books wherever, on the logic that I can organize them at leisure later. My uncle, who is a civil engineer and spends a lot of his working life figuring out how to build structures that are sturdy yet aesthetic, is a bigger influence than he knows. The only shelves that should hold the larger hardcovers on are the bottom or the middle bracing shelves, which are the sturdiest, and in any case we do not want the shelves overly top-heavy.
Little felt pads go on the bottom of every shelf, to protect the hardwood (well, hardgrass) floor. When they’re all up, then will come cross-bracing across the top and bolting them together at the base; we live in a subduction zone. While I’m under no illusions about what a serious earthquake would do to the library, if a whole full shelf were able to fall directly over, that is much more dangerous than all the books simply being shaken off and cascading to the floor. No entombed electrical outlets; each one has a power strip with a long enough right-angle plug cord to set it on top of the shelves, since those will hide that outlet from view for what may be the remainder of my life. I’m hoping my uncle will one day come to visit me and examine what I’ve designed, and give it the Good Engineering Seal of Approval. I’m hoping my aunt, to whom Great-Great-Aunt Nell was a great-aunt, will take satisfaction in the way the library will honor Aunt Nell.
One improves rapidly at the fine art of assembling Ikea furniture. I like that they are more likely to give you too many small parts than too few. We got an extra shelf per unit, which was a spendy addition to an already spendy process, but we are united in the belief that we should do this one right. So I horse some book boxes around, build a couple of shelves, unpack some book boxes that are in a spot where I need to put more shelves, repeat.
I don’t like taking or posting pictures here, and am not good at it, but when it’s done, I just might make an exception. That would be more interesting than posting pictures of a dinner, or a cat, or yet another salvo in the endless, unwinnable cultural Afghanistan that American society has become, atrocity and reprisal fought out on social media between people who could be friends if they could at least agree that someone who disagrees with your politics can still be a decent human being.
If we turn out to have too many books, we will just have to cull some down. By that time, I hope we’ll have a good idea where to donate them. Libraries will just sell them, mostly. I think instead we will advertise them as donations for low income families with children who adore reading.
I can imagine Aunt Nell doing that, too.
4 thoughts on “My own Alexandria”
I can’t wait to see your new home and private Alexandria! I also hope I wasn’t one of the people who mocked you on FB. While I admit to a certain preoccupation with toe-tapping, wide stances, and breast pumps, I love books too — but you already know that.
You certainly were not, OSG, never fear. We hope you’ll come over some time when we get the place squared away. If you like hot tub, bring your bathing suit. (And before you ask, my nursing-educated friend, I am very much on top of hot tub chemical balance and suitable hygiene. Sunday is test and balance day, and it ain’t done until the testing shows good levels in all four areas.)
Do you still have the 1955 encyclopedias?
I fondly remember a set of Funk & Wagnalls in our own home library as a child and I used to sit for hours just choosing random things to read.
I do not, sadly, and do not know what became of them. I think my mother gave them away with the rest of the childhood items I didn’t think to rescue first.