Being a writer, I own lots of books. I’m sure there are probably some writers who don’t feel compelled to own walls and walls of books, and perhaps there are even some writers who have slowed down in their reading habits at some point in their life (though I would personally see that as having one foot in the grave, the same way I feel that when I see someone not engaging in what had been a usually vital activity for them any longer) and don’t have as many books coming into their shelves as they once did. My own collection began a long time ago, when I was a teenager. I’d always loved books and reading and writing stories since I was a little kid, but around the time I was fifteen I began buying books. Books weren’t just another thing that came into my family’s home. Besides myself, my family members weren’t really readers. So when I began spending money on books and soon found myself in possession of fifteen or twenty of them and stacks were growing on the shelves above my bed, I’d sometimes overhear an aunt or uncle asking why I read so much, or a cousin would ask when they were hanging out in my room with me, “Have you really read all of those?” Between fifteen and now, thirty-two, I’ve purchased hundreds and hundreds of books. I’ve never counted, so I’m not sure exactly how many, but it feels like a ridiculous amount, and probably that cousin who once asked me if I’d really read all those (fifteen or twenty) books would see how many I have now and decide I was completely crazy. Sometimes I wonder if I am too. Couldn’t this be just one more compulsion or obsession that, if books weren’t associated with goodness and learning and information or various other cultural values, in some other form would be diagnosed as some form of neuroses? I don’t know if it’s a little overboard, and I really don’t care in the end; if it’s a neuroses, some compulsion that means something more than the thing itself, but it makes me happy, then it’s a neuroses worth having, is the way I figure.
For the past four or five years, though, I’ve moved around so often, from various places within the states, and from place to place within my city, and from the U.S. to Japan, and because of all this moving, my books have been stored in my folks’ basement, in boxes I sort of borrowed permanently from the Capital District Library in Lansing, Michigan, where I worked from the age of twenty-three to twenty-five. When I moved back to Youngstown from Lansing, I had a bunch of books up there with me that I wanted to bring home, and these library boxes were perfectly shaped, with little handles, very sturdy, and lids rather than flaps to close them. I’ve kept them ever since that move because they made moving my books more efficient and easy. Now that I’m in my house and I’m settled (and still settling, really, day to day, because it takes me a while to sink down into a place, even just a change in house from an apartment on opposite sides of the city) I decided I should bring all those books I’d been storing with my folks to my new place. I’d had some books in here with me since I moved in, but really, probably no more than fifty or sixty, and that’s just not enough.
So I drove out to my parents’ place this afternoon and borrowed my dad’s truck so I could actually bring all those boxes in one trip (didn’t work, I still have four left back there) and went over to a friend’s house back here in Youngstown when I returned, because I’d given her a bookshelf of mine to keep for me while I was away, and she’d been a good friend and looked after it till today, and I brought that back home too. I’d already bought three new bookshelves earlier this week in preparation for today, too. It took a good part of the afternoon and evening to get everything packed and unpacked and set up, and after unpacking a little over half of the boxes now, the shelves are full. I still don’t have enough room. So I’ll have to buy a couple more shelves to house them. I can imagine if I keep up at this pace, I’ll have bookshelves in every room of this house at some point, except maybe the kitchen, and when I’m old and someone finds me dead here, they’ll have to pick their way through the stacks to get to my body. I suppose there are worse scenarios than that, so if that’s my fate, I’ll take it.
One of the things I noticed after I got more shelving and have more of my books surrounding me, especially here in my office, is that the house suddenly felt a bit more like home to me. It already felt like home, I think, but I suppose home is something that can be estimated by a matter of degrees the same as just about any state of mind or being, and if that’s the case, then it made my home feel even more like a home, and it also served to remind me of how much I’ve always appreciated just having the physical presence of books around me wherever I write. I like having them around to remind me that I’m not writing in a vacuum but in a conversation, and as inspiration of a sort, I guess. In Japan this wasn’t always easy–my selections were more limited overseas, and also I lived in a tiny apartment. It’s all that less-is-more minimalism, I used to joke to myself privately in reference to my lean collection of books there, because I’d gotten so used to having stacks in every corner of my apartments back in the states.
I guess I’d gotten used to having only a small selection since I lived in Japan, though, because I hadn’t anticipated how I feel right now, overwhelmed and surrounded, but also, somehow, more myself.