Let’s talk books, shall we? You may have noticed I write a lot about them here, probably because my favorite kind of book is the latest big, beautiful coffee-table book on jewelry.
I have yards of shelf filled with those and several more with books on art, craft, decorative arts, interior design, gardening, travel photography. Above that are how-to jewelry books (identifying gemstones, goldsmith techniques, etc) and business books and endless rows of novels, memoirs, essays, short stories.
I have way too many books and I keep getting more. What I don’t buy, people send. I have to keep culling or I will be buried alive: “Here lies Cathleen. Consumed by the written word.”
Yeah, I know. Kindle, right? E-readers. I have those too.
If you’re in my office, you may notice most of my books fit into their own little shelf space. My bookcase was custom-designed by my father years ago. At the time, books were threatening to take over my apartment and push me out into the stairwell where my neighbors would have to trod on me as I slept.
When he asked for dimensions, I measured my hallway and said I wanted it to fill that space.
I lived in a Deco-era apartment designed so you ran smack into a wall when you entered the front door. Proper feng shui would have required putting a big mirror there to create a faux foyer, the illusion of space. But then I’d have to face the reality of myself every time I came home: “Oh, there I am again. Yikes! Look at my hair.”
Walking into a wall of books is probably not in the feng shui manual. It represents work, after all, but also my favorite things. I decided it would be fitting to see my books first thing on every homecoming.
When I gave my dad the width and height of my hallway wall, he balked, insisting I could never fill that much space with books. My dad is an engineer, absurdly practical about such things. I insisted I really could and, furthermore, that I would outgrow it within a year.
Then he made me measure all my books. Seriously. He wouldn’t start until he had actual book evidence.
I know this man. Once he sets his mind on a task, there’s no stopping him, but he has to have what he has to have. So I pulled my tape measure out again and measured everything that would go on these shelves – height, width, depth. He was so pleased when I presented him a list – ten feet of 9×7 books, etc, every inch accounted for. (I built in a little room for expansion.)
“Wow, you really do have a lot of books,” he said. “Okay, I can work with this.”
When my brother, a cabinetmaker, heard about this project, he rolled his eyes. “You know you’re going to end up with a monstrosity in your hallway, right? Dad’s an engineer. It’s going to be a big block, structurally sound but no attention to detail.”
“You wanna take it on?” I asked.
Uh…no. (He had a full-time job, wife, kids at home, house, yard, etc. My dad is retired.) So, he offered advice instead. “Make sure he uses hardwood. There’s going to be a lot of weight on those boards, you don’t want them to buckle. No pine! Make it walnut, it’s not that expensive, and have him stain it cherry. It will look like fine wood.”
I took notes, relayed them to my dad, and he set to work in his workshop in the Shenandoah Mountains. Whenever I spoke to my mother, I could hear power tools in the background. It took him forever, poor man. None of us had any idea how huge this project was, except probably my brother. Eventually, my parents loaded all the pieces onto the trailer and headed north.
When the bookcase was assembled, it was a thing of beauty. Even my brother was impressed. My dad had made little stilts to wedge between shelves if they started to buckle but the wood was so sturdy, I only use a couple as a preventative measure. (I keep them handy though. Something about them melts my heart.)
What I ended up with was a sort of two-story shelf unit, the top story resting on the bottom story – which was designed to hold my biggest jewelry and art books – and the whole shebang bolted into the wall. It was a major pain to install, then dismantle and reinstall into this house.
I begged my husband to let me repaint my office first because he’d never get it off again. He insisted it would be no big deal. It never came off, he’s gone now, and that room is still Pepto-Bismol pink. I get indigestion just sitting in there.
But that’s where all the books are.
Every time my parents visit, my dad stands in front of that bookcase, runs his hand along the grain and expresses amazement: “Where do you get all these books?”
Last time I pointed to the opposite wall and said, “Think you could make a matching one?”
He shook his head sadly and said, “I just don’t have it in me.”
Just as well. Build it and they will come. The books, I mean.