Monday, March 23, 2009


(NOTE: Charles Darwin will celebrate the 150th anniversary of his THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES in November. This is a worthwhile book to have and read but there is no reason to rush out and buy a copy on account of Mr. Darwin is no longer alive to enjoy his piece of the action. Many dead writers have the same problem. While they may not have taken their royalties with them, having the checks forwarded would be a nice gesture. This includes film rights.)


Every home needs a library, no matter if you live in a prefab McMansion, cramped studio apartment, or dull condominium. All your stuff is a reflection of who you are: the photographs and art prints on the walls serve as reminders of where you’ve been and with whom, comfortable furniture says you like sitting around, and home entertainment systems tell how much you care about what you listen to and watch. These are dandy, but a home is not truly a home until there are shelves loaded with books.

Your library should consist of what you like. There is no “must have” list to consult. Mysteries? Line them up. The same goes for cooking and cookery, biography, history, science, novels, poetry, or reference books. Recycle the ones you will never read or have read and dislike. A home library does not have to be all-inclusive or expansive, only filled with your interests. Paperbacks can sit next to hard covers without causing any serious zoning problems. Any guest that ridicules your selection should be politely shown the door. You don’t want those people around anyway.


In a world better than the abysmal wallow we currently plod through, part of high school curriculum would include building bookshelves. Students learn how to choose woods, saw, sand, countersink screws, and use a spirit level. Since this is unlikely to happen, most people purchase ready-made shelves. Particleboard is a mistake (the crap bows under any weight), so is metal, and dark woods dampen an otherwise bright room. How tall the shelves need to be depends on what you put on them. For those whose taste runs to art books, the shelves should be at least 14 inches apart and likely more. Mass-market paperbacks are 7 inches tall, and hardcover fiction and nonfiction run about 9 inches. Add another inch so there will be no cramping. The measuring tape is your friend.

Wherever the shelves are placed, make sure no direct sunlight hits them. Red book jackets will be bleached to pink in no time under the effects of full spectrum light, and green and yellow and teal also get drained of their original brightness. Sun is brutal on books of all colors. You want light? Go buy a lamp.


Save the Dewey decimal system for your next visit to the public library. This is yours and organization is all about what works for you. Should you line the books alphabetically by title or author? What works is more important than what someone else might think. For those with a heightened visual sense, try separating by color. Rimbaud scribbled out: “I invented the color of vowels!—A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green…” Use this for a start while dullards have to make do with whole words.

Those with a range of interests will want to make divisions by genre: cookery here, science fiction there, and racier stuff at the top so the kids won’t get into it until they grow tall enough or learn how to use a chair. Every book is valid so what goes first never matters, only that you can find it when you want. If you live with other people ask their opinions so you can ignore them.


Come on, think for a moment. The best place to buy books is at an independent bookstore. They need the help and so do the impecunious writers whose work sits in their shops. Big chain stores will need the help about two days after Earth is sucked into a giant black hole and shot across the galaxy to a new solar system. Since this is not going to happen anytime soon, check the Yellow Pages or log on to IndieBound ( for the nearest and friendliest bookstore in your neighborhood. Buy several copies of THE DOG WALKED DOWN THE STREET: AN OUTSPOKEN GUIDE FOR WRITERS WHO WANT TO PUBLISH (Cypress House, $13.95). Special orders will be cheerfully filled.

NEXT: Distemper of Our Times

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Anonymous Buck said...

Tell the bus driver I'll be out in a minute.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I quite enjoyed this post, but I have a picky point to make: recycling books? Really? I have never heard of someone disposing of or recycling a book, unless it had become waterlogged. I would implore readers to please sell or trade their books to sellers of used books, or to give them away to friends or charity. Used book shops are conservationist-friendly, and they need the support as well. Please bring your unwanted books to them, and maybe bring home some replacements.

2:33 PM  

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