They have such well-remembered names as Michner, Ludlum, Auel and Connely. They hold such compelling promise and intrigue as “Lie Down with Lions” and “Keeper of the Keys” and “A Distant Mirror” and “Claude and Camille.” They lean on one another, making stair-stepped shadows up the wall. A pink felt bunny with blue button eyes rests against a few of them, as do other treasures and colors and words of titles and authors.
I am building bookcases. And I am building them out of books.
Most of us had the quintessential first-apartment bookcase that was self-made from long boards resting on concrete blocks. Now, imagine the concrete blocks replaced by stacks of fat and lovely, worn and once-loved books. Novels mostly. Some histories. A few biographies. And as many old encyclopedias and dictionaries as I could put my hands on.
I’ve haunted used book stalls and yard sales, library clearances and junk yards. And then, with great fortune, I was recently put in touch with a man who shares my conviction that a book – no matter how old or tattered – must never, ever, be thrown away. He saves them in sheds and outbuildings, nooks and corners, all around his home and property. He sells them when he can and is extremely generous with those he finds who share his passion and purpose. A friend of a friend put us in contact with each other. And, when he opened the first shed door, and boxes of books as high as the ceiling came tumbling forth, I first thought ... “Yes, I want them all!” He dragged even more overflowing, jumbled boxes to the carport, and I began shifting through them by the armsful. I smiled a lot and kept saying ... “This is great ... this is really, really great!” We talked about our mutual love for books – hardcover in particular. The joy of the whole book experience – from smell to feel to look of them – beyond the opportunities they bring for total emersion within the story itself, the experience of the words.
At first, I chose them for the size only – to make my bookcases. Then, I began to notice titles and authors and whether or not I had read them. To date, I have made three trips to this hideaway of books just outside of town. Three times I have returned with a carload. I’ve lost exact count, but well over 200 books have come to live with me in this way. Carried into the house, stacked first in the middle of the kitchen floor to be sorted and reviewed and petted. Some have been put to work as I initially intended – in constructing the bookshelves themselves. Some, however, wait to be read first. The titles now all look out at me with their mixture of typefont eyes and faces of diverse colors. Their promises of experience and imagination create the most compelling and appropriately solid foundations and supports for their sister books – the ones that fill the shelves created for them. Even my sense of hearing is pleased with these book-built bookcases: they quiet the room with comfort and company.
Each book is carefully balanced on top of another, without harm or permanence – so it may be read one day, exchanged for another of equal size and shape. A sort of lending library within itself.
Perhaps it is significant that the room in my house that accommodates these new bookshelves is my “TV” room. My dining room has also been fitted with built-in bookcases that have now become overflowing. Other rooms throughout the house accommodate their books on tables and mantlepieces, dressers and floors. Perhaps, too, it is significant that I even sold some furniture to make room for the books and to subsidize them. I suspect it is simply what those of us who adore books do – without thought or regret and only a bit of embarrassment. And we tell ourselves that, after all, one can never really have too many books. And, if we have enough, we can even build a bookcase with them.
Marti Healy is a local writer, author of the books “The God-Dog Connection,” “The Rhythm of Selby,” “The Secret Child,” and a collection of her columns: “Yes, Barbara, There is an Aiken.”