Sunday, January 09, 2011

the sorrows of bibliophilia

That time of year is upon us: the semester begins next week, & I'm as usual trembling in my boots (well, sandals) at the prospect. I'm teaching a reprise of the biography seminar I did a couple of years back; that should be fun, at least for me if not for the students. And an undergraduate epic course, which has me I confess a bit nervous – but then again I'll just quote, over & over again, whichever scholar it was who said that Homer can't be interpreted, only analyzed. Yeah, that sounds good.
I came back from the holidays in New York – the blizzard was spectacular, & watching the city dig itself out afterwards was great fun – with only a couple dozen books in my luggage (well, actually UPS'd back in a box), a rather conservative number for a more or less inveterate book-buyer. And found about as many waiting for me in cartons at home, things I'd ordered & the payoff for a couple of manuscripts I read last Fall. So I spent some time deliciously unpacking (cf. the Benjamin essay), actually reading a couple of things. (Maybe I'll blog them...) And then came the inevitable question: Where the hell will I shelve these things?

Mind you, it's not like there isn't shelf space in my study. I have three walls that are pretty much nothing but shelves, a huge 7-shelf case by the door, and a walk-in closet that's been crammed with Door Store portables. And the hall closet outside the study has been converted into a three-sided shelving area long since. The problem is that even if I filled up every fugitive half-shelf and 2-inch space in the house, I'd still have a few hundred books without homes. I began by making a stack next to the outside door of things that I was using. That's grown to 4 or 5 stacks (2 to 3-foot stacks, mind you), and I've entirely forgotten what's at the bottom of them.

Now I don't particularly mind disorder. (Any of my students can testify to that.) But book-stacking has gotten out of hand when I can't find something I need. And that's begun to happen all too often.

Our Fair University may have bailed me out, at least for the short run. Over the break, they've moved the department into a new building. No, I'm not particularly keen on the new office; it's okay, but my view – which in the old one was magnificent – sucks: a parking lot. At least I can watch my car, I guess. Initially I was terrifically worried about bookshelf space. In my old office, in addition to a bunch of built-ins and a bigge-asse freestanding case, I'd brought in three of those fold-outs and a couple of nice Ukrainian-made things. I had shelvage to spare, and tended to use the office for home study overflow. Well, needless to say the new office is well-equipped in everything but shelf space. For some reason, they've given us enough file space for a good sized small business, but enough bookshelves for – well, an accounting professor.

But I've somehow managed to cram most of my ancillary shelves in (tho I'm pretty sure I'm violating the fire code in one or two ways), and after several days of unpacking & sorting, I'm beginning to think everything's going to find a home. Indeed, I'm beginning to suspect that I might actually have some extra space here, even. Which means that something from home gets to go to school, & free up space around the study. Right now, I'm thinking it's the Beckett collection. You see, I hate to break up substantial collections – this one is around 100 volumes. Half of it's at home, in the hall closet; but when the French department's Beckett scholar retired last year & offered me her Beckett books, was I going to say no? They're in the office right now, & I think my Beckett books at home might be happier in their company.

Anyway, I've spent a number of hours over the past few days pitchforking thru the study, throwing out stacks & stacks of papers & trying to achieve a bit of order. One side-effect has been that I've moved my desk over by a half-foot, and fitted another wee bookcase on one side. So maybe, with the combined effects of the new office & this new bookcase, I'll be okay for another six months or so.

Chaucer's Clerk, I seem to recall, would've been happy with "Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed."

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