Bookcase Tour

Bookcase Set 018

For as long as I can remember, I’d wanted to own a set of floor-to-ceiling, built-in bookshelves. By July 2001, eight years after moving into the house where I now live, I’d saved enough money to replace my ancient set of store-bought bookshelves with The Real Deal.

My friend and neighbor Charles Haver, a talented carpenter, agreed to take on the job. He took a rough sketch I made and, in three months, created exactly what I was hoping for, building the units in his basement and then transferring them to my living room to frame them in.

Here’s the set of Storehouse-bought shelves that I’d lived with since I got out of college:

Before Built-ins01112014_0000

Here’s Charles standing in front of the new shelves he’s just installed and painted. Note the nifty bead-board backing of the just-painted shelves, the wall outlet Charles installed in the middle of one of the shelves, and the fact that I’ve re-painted the living room wall:

After Built-ins - Sans Books01112014_0000

And here’s what the shelves looked like shortly thereafter:

After Built-ins - With Books01112014_0000

Over the years, as I continued to cram in more books and more bric-a-brac, the arrangement of things in this set of shelves morphed accordingly. Here’s the bookcase approximately five years ago:

After Built-ins - Much Later

Now that I’ve lived in this house for twenty years, there’s not an inch of space left to insert another book – or another knickknack. Clearly it’s way past time for a major purge.

Conscious of the fact that the contents of this bookshelf contain multiple talismans of my reading interests, travels, and a welter of associations with friends who’ve given me various items on display here, I’ve decided not only to systematically remove each shelf’s contents to evaluate what to keep and what to discard – and to finally dust the bookcase! – but to take a little inventory of what’s in there. How did this book (or object) come into my life and/or why have I hung onto it for so long?

The bookcase contains twenty-eight shelves. (One of which I’ve removed to create a space for showing off a print or making a little altar at Solstice time.) Dismantling two or three shelves at a time (which is the number of shelves that fit niftily into a standard-size photo), I might, if I keep at it, actually finish this project sometime in 2014!

Hereweith, then, is a photo of the first three shelves (starting with the upper-right-hand corner of the wall the bookcase covers) and a listing of the pre-purged contents of the first of those shelves:

Bookcase Set 009

Books On This Shelf I’ve Read:

  • A History of God (1993) by Karen Armstrong. I’ve read several of Armstrong’s books, but this is the only one I seemed to have bought so I could read it again someday.
  • Three books by my fellow-Atlantan (and college-era pal) Franklin Abbott: Changing Always [Poems]; Mortal Love: Collected Poems, 1971-1992; and Pink Zinnias: Poems and Stories (2009). I’m not sure where my copy of Franklin’s Men and Masculinity and Boyhood got to – maybe in the bookcase in the guest bedroom where I stash most of my GLBTQ nonfiction?
  • Getting Even (1971) and Without Feathers (1975) by Woody Allen.  The second of these collections of comic essays actually belongs to Harvey Schwartz, who now lives in San Francisco but whose books were merged with mine during the time we lived together (both in Atlanta and in San Francisco ) in the early 1980s.
  • The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas (2010) edited by Robin Wharvie and Stephanie Meyers. I remember buying this at a Border’s going-out-of-business; it was the unlikely first item in what turned into a temporary avalanche of books about atheism that I decided to read after finishing this one.
  • The Poetics of Space (translated 1964) by Gaston Bachelard. The bibliographies in several books about the history and design of houses (one of my perennial reading interests) cited this “classic,” and I finally got around to tracking it down. It was so inspiring that I decided I must have a copy. (The other day at another going-out-of-business bookstore sale, I forgot I had a copy already and bought another one. Good: I now have one to give away someday to some lucky friend.) Earlier this month in yet another house-history book I was reading, the author devotes many pages to valorizing several other books Bachelard wrote. Now I’ve got to track some of them down. 
  • The Floating Opera (1956) by John Barth. Barth’s first novel, and an uncharacteristically short one, although it wasn’t the first of his I read. (For me, that was either The End of the Road or Giles Goat-Boy.) There was a time when I thought Barth was the best living novelist I’d ever read – not that I read many novels). I still think Barth is a genius.
  • A Stroll with William James (1983) by Jacques Barzun. I own two copies of this book (one in paper, the other, found later in a book sale, in hardback), and loved it so much that I devoted an entire blogpost to describing it.
  • The Uncommon Reader (2007) by Alan Bennett. Surely one of the most delightful novellas of the century, and one that I’ve given as a present to several favorite fell0w-booklovers. (Which is probably why I currently own two copies, so I can give one away to another lucky recipient one day.)
  • Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish (1989) by Sue Bender. An example of how I’m often drawn to reading books about (a) the pursuit of simplicity, and (b) the history of communitarian movements.
  • How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997) by Alain de Botton. One of only a handful of prose writers whose books I collect because I find his books so delightfully written (and structured).

Books on This Shelf I Haven’t Read Yet:

  • We Think the World of You (1960; 2000) by J.R. Ackerley. I must’ve come into possession of this book during my stint as a gay book award panelist. It appears on various “Best Books” lists, but so far I haven’t attempted to read it.
  • Fables of Aesop
  • So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984) by Douglas Adams. This “fourth book in The Hitchiker’s Trilogy” was given to me for my birthday in 1985 by my much-missed friend Corky Garner, who died in 2011. 
  • A Voice Crying in the Wilderness: Notes from a Secret Journal  (1989) by Edward Abbey. It’s probably Desert Solitaire that I should have a copy of, but this is the one I picked up somewhere instead…and still haven’t read. He’s so revered by various other environmental heroes of mine, however (including, among others Wendell Berry), that I think I’ll hold onto this in case I am ever moved to read something of Abbey’s.
  • The Professional Radical: Conversations with Saul Alinsky (1970) by Marion K. Sanders and Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (1971) by Saul Alinksy.  Alinksy was a hero of several esteemed professors at Mercer University that I graduated from in 1970. His down-t0-earth strategies for social change were part of the air I breathed in those four glorious, exciting years.
  • Trash: Stories (1988) by Dorothy Allison. One of the first books by a heroine of mine who I got to hear speak at an awards ceremony at one of the many librarians’ conventions I attended throughout the decade of 1986-1996.
  • The Private Journal of Henri Frederic Amiel (translated 1935 from the French). One of the first memoirs of obscure Europeans that I ever purchased, it was certainly not the last. Amiel’s journal ran to 14,000 pages, and this is of course a selection of a fraction of the total work, translated by Van Wyck and Charles Van Wyck Brooks. 
  • The Portable Matthew Arnold (1949) edited by Lionel Trilling.
  • An Augustine Synthesis (1958) arranged by Erich Przywara.
  • Persuasion (1818) by Jane Austen. A mass-market paperback recently purchased after listening to the exquisite audiobook versions of three of Austen’s other books. I know in my bones I am going to want to re-read Austen’s books for the sheer gorgeousness of her prose.
  • The Jane Austen Cookbook (2002) by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye. A present given to me by Blanche Flanders, who knows I’m smitten with Austen and Most Things British, especially literary and celebrated-in-British-literature Things.
  • Francis Bacon:  A Selection of His Works (1965). I think this book must belong to my former partner Larry – although I’ve always revered Bacon for the few essays of his that I’ve read over the years.
  • Peter Pan (1911) and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie and illustrated by Arthur Rackham. The first of these is a mass-market paperback. The latter is one of the items from the personal library of my friend Raven library that I decided to keep after Raven was murdered in 1993. Partly because it belonged to Raven (he stamped it with an ownership stamp he designed), and partly because Peter Pan was a character much beloved by my closest circle of high school friends, especially Rebecca Roberts (who died in 1985). 
  • Flaubert’s Parrot (1984) by Julian Barnes. Larry Paul, my partner-for-nineteen-years, read this book for one of his college lit classes and told me I would love it. Because I trust Larry’s judgment, I still plan to read it one day. (I’ve tried at least twice already, but both times got sidetracked by other books.)
  • Church Dogmatics: A Selection (translated 1961) by Karl Barth. Barth, along with Tillich, were the two 20th century titans of Christian theology championed by (different) professors at Mercer where I received such an excellent education (minoring in Christianity due to the excellence of that department’s faculty). This book turns out to belong to my then-wife Peg, whose underlinings and marginal notes show she read the entire book.
  • Come Back, Dr. Caligari (1965) by Donald Barthelme.
  • Teacher in America (1945) by Jacques Barzun. I bought this decades ago, when I assumed I’d eventually become a teacher, and long before my 20013 re-discovery of Barzun’s fantastically engaging prose style, which now makes me want to read every word he wrote (unlikely, as he lived to be 104 and wrote many dozens of books). Next to it: A Jacques Barzun Reader (2002) edited by Michael Murray – once I tackle it, probably the closest I’ll ever come to reading “all” of Barzun’s output.
  • Liquid Fear (2006) by Zygmunt Bauman. A book of philosophical/political essays that I purchased (after sampling a library copy) not only for its unusual subject matter (the various floating paranoias of our time) but also for its intriguing title. I’ve finished about half of it.
  • Everyday Zen: Love and Work (1989) by Charlotte Joko Beck


  • Vase with Japanese calligraphy, filled with spindles from a textile factory. The vase and its contents I found at (different) garage sales – the primary means by which I’ve furnished my house (and my bookcases). Calligraphy of all kinds has always intrigued me, as do many things Japanese, so I couldn’t resist bringing home this vase. And since virtually anything made of wood (vs. plastic) seems beautiful to me, even these eight mysterious-looking spindles from the tail-end of the industrial revolution made their way into my collection at some point (along with, as will become clear, many, many wooden boxes).
  • Set of blue-and-white connected paper boxes. More Japanese-y paraphernalia, purchased so long ago that I don’t remember the circumstances. These four boxes are probably part of a desk blotter set; they’re all connected to each other so that they can be unfurled into a row or stacked upon each other in a square.
  • A small hand-made brown-glazed pottery bowl, purchased during the same era (1980s?) as the paper boxes, probably at an early Piedmont Arts Festival (when such things were affordable). Before migrating to the bookcase, it held pens and pencils on the lengthy series of different writing desks I’ve owned.

Upshot of Inventory of Shelf #1 (of 28):

  • # of books purged from shelf #1: 8
  • # of nonbook objects purged from shelf #1: 0
  • # of titles added to catalog of personal library: 27

2 thoughts on “Bookcase Tour

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