I’ve always sort of collected books. I’d pillage library sales and buy things from the used book store that I thought surely I’d read some day. They’d sit in a big teetering pile on my night stand for a while, and eventually I’d read them or shelve them. We moved into a new house about a decade ago and I had to do a big book purge, which sort of broke my heart because I liked the ownership of these objects, and I suppose I felt a sort of pride at owning what seemed like a fair lot of books for just a normal bookish person but not like a professor or real collector to own.
A couple of years ago, I moved my home office from our bonus room to a downstairs living room that we installed some doors on. It was a smaller space that we had been using as a toy room, and it was nice to move the kids’ mess upstairs and out of sight and to make a nice office space that would also allow me to showcase some of my books. We installed some nice built-in shelves in the bonus room for the kids’ books (which now rival and probably surpass my diminished collection in number), and I decided to confine my books to the usual nightstand pile and a single 5×5 Ikea shelf that serves as my backdrop when I have video chats with coworkers.
This meant doing another purge to make all my books fit, and though I thought I’d mind it, I now apparently am (mostly) over the ownership of books as objects, unless the specific book is one I know I want to keep for reasons other than the abstract desire to own books. This means that mostly my bookshelf now represents the things I really and truly do intend to read or reread, the things I have read and hold dear, and a few things that for whatever reason I can’t let go of. (It also means that I buy a lot fewer books, which is good for the old pocketbook. I went through a period last year during which I’d go buy $100 worth of books more or less at random, and not necessarily want to keep any of them, or be able to sell them back for much at all. As a result, I’m using the library a lot more, which can be frustrating when I can’t find stuff I want but which also imposes a kind of neat constraint on what I read.)
You’ll note that the books pictured above are all reddish. I had long sorted my books mostly randomly anyway (with little pockets here and there for poetry, say, or for a collection of books by the same author), and when I moved into the new office and knew my books would be my backdrop for the many video chats I do, I thought I’d make them lovely to look at. So they’re arranged rainbowishly, and the pictured compartment is at top left as you face the shelves. On nearly every video call in which a person I haven’t chatted with before sees my bookshelves, they comment on the shelves, and I get a nice jolt of pleasure out of the inquiry. I thought it’d be fun to do a series (if it doesn’t peter out) in which I consider the books in each of (or at least each of the more interesting) compartments. This’ll be number one in the series.
This is a really good compartment. You can typically tell when I’ve acquired a book in the last year or two because it’s shelved horizontally rather than vertically. Here we see Erdrich’s The Round House, which I got last year and liked enough that I wanted to keep it. I got the Morris dictionary way back in college when I was really into word origins, and it’s fun to dig into every once in a while. I think I learned of Jodi Angel from a One Story story, and I liked this collection enough that I figured I might reread it some time. I’m not enamored of the Boswell book on Wallace, but pretty much anything pertaining to Wallace I keep; a few years ago, this one would’ve been shelved with a linear foot or so of other books on or by Wallace. I keep anything by Saunders because I figure that one day I’ll do a big study or something on him, so Civilwarland makes the cut. I learned about Garner many years ago via Wallace, and when I got his dictionary of American usage as a gift a while back, I sat down on the spot and read about half of it as if it were a novel. Look out for his more comprehensive guide (my new go-to for usage questions) when we hit the blue shelves. Coover, as one of the parents of postmodernism, is somebody I figure I’ll keep coming back to, though this is the only book of his I own. I don’t love all the stories in it, though a couple are doozies. I keep anything by Gaddis (postmodernism, plus he’s just so very good, though this collection of essays is kind of meh). I’m a sucker for short story anthologies but haven’t read the one pictured here and should probably get rid of it to make room for the Erdrich. I do mean to dip into it one day. I haven’t tried to read Lord Jim since I first stalled out in it maybe 20 years ago but figure I will one day. I should ditch On Beauty because I didn’t really even like it, but I figured that it was probably my fault and not Smith’s that I didn’t like it and that I should reread it one day after getting around to reading Howard’s End, so on the bookshelf it stays. I’m a sucker for a Norton anthology and do actually dip back into the various of these anthologies we own every once in a while. And finally, Alice Munro — what a near perfect story writer she is; I know I’ll go back into this collection later.
That’s it, installment one of potentially 20 (the bottom row of my shelves mostly contain things that aren’t books). I might decide it’s too boring or too tedious to even write these things much less to read them, so we’ll see how far I get.