Guy Davenport once told me he figured he received at least one book a day – review copies, authors' gifts, etc. I began to feel that way last week, as the postal carrier dropped packages almost every day of the week – things I'd ordered, presentation copies, desk copies for courses, and so forth. It's all good, but heaven help me there really isn't any shelf space anymore.
Once upon a time I had two squat bookshelves in the living area devoted to unread and mostly unsorted books. Three years ago I added a long three-shelfer to my study to take up the overflow, and to shelve books I was working with at the moment. That got retired last year & replaced with a seven-foot-tall job – which is now full as a tick (as Mom used to say), & is even double-shelved (ie books in front of other books). Not to mention that it's surrounded by stacks of books on the floor.
I blame inheritance: First, a few years back I got a biggish carton of books from my Alma Mater, books that had belonged to my first academic mentor of beloved memory, a Hopkins & Austen scholar who passed away some years back. It means the world to me to read Hopkins in her densely marked copies, but my own library has never quite properly absorbed the books. Then an in-law retired from teaching at CUNY and invited me to take whatever I wanted from her library of film studied and anthropology; then my Beckett colleague at Our Fair University retired & before flying to Paris, told me to take what I wanted of thirty years of Beckett criticism; then my bookseller friend pressed upon me (oh & I was unwilling, you bet) the overflow of his enormous Ruskin & Romanticism collection. You get the picture. There have been vast intakes of books over the past years, & the shelving simply hasn't kept up.
I don't mind having too many books. But things just might have gotten out of hand when I spent more time looking for books than I do reading them.
(Worse may loom ahead: our department is moving into a new building at the end of this month, & no-one quite seems to know precisely how much shelf space the new offices will have. My office has been, time out of mind, the overflow valve for the house, the place where I shelve fiction, religion, criticism that I don't need to consult often. What, I wake up asking myself in a lather of cold sweat, if I have to bring a couple hundred books home?)