Friday, August 30, 2013

Book Care: Culling Books

       As far back as I can remember, I've always had a book in my hands (to the chagrin of my mother who felt I should play or do something else instead). Books came into my young life as hand-me-downs, gifts, or rewards. In school, I was taught by book-loving nuns to consider volumes, large or small, as best friends. The Sisters of St. Casimir  taught me how to remove a book from a shelf, how to turn its pages, to have clean hands, and not to have food or drink nearby. And never wet a fingertip to turn a page, or gasp! dog-ear it––use a bookmark, please! Valuable lessons instilled that I still carry with me.
     I began purchasing books soon after my first paycheck. Hundreds of paychecks later, I'm still in the book-buying game. I covet books. When I walk past a bookstore in a shopping plaza, my whole being pulses like a divining rod. I lack the discipline to walk past it, because I know what waits inside for me. Nothing can be as soothing as a few hours spent in the shop of delights, and I never leave empty-handed. There is always a book I don't have, and that book needs me.
     The evolving collection of books reflects my idiosyncratic interests, curiosities, and hobbies. I have books about honey bees and beekeeping, travel (near and far), raising parakeets, freshwater fish, cats, and dogs. I have books on South Florida vegetation (orchids, palms, ferns, trees, gingers), and wildlife (snakes, turtles, birds, butterflies). Four shelves are dedicated to history (U.S. and foreign), urban planning, architecture, architect mongraphs, and U. S. historic buildings), and another two hold cookbooks (I love to cook!). Did I mention two bookcases (five shelves each) are dedicated to creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry and poets, humor, and many literary journals? Also, my needs as a writer have increased exponentially the last few years, and I now possess books addressing specific writing issues. They, too, have shelves.
     My home has become a repository for the passion for books. Stacks of books lend warmth and comfort and a modicum of disarray to our rooms. How satisfying it is when occasionally a book is needed to "verify something," and verification can be found a few steps away.

     Last week in Book Care: Horizontal vs. Vertical vs. Jumbled Up, I noted every room in our home contains a bookcase––some cases larger than others with some rooms having several. Available space, both in the house and on shelves, is a problem. I've wrestled with this for a while, and decided it's time to thin out the books. It's not a welcome task. I can readily part with accumulated "stuff"(knick knacks, CDs, DVDs, clothes), but find it far more difficult to part with books.

    I'm the avid book reader in the family, and therefore have the most books. I know I need to part with them, but part with them where? I'd be happier if I could consolidate, but consolidate them where? I'm thinking it's a challenge I'll take with me until I'm six feet under. I know people who list their books on ebay or Amazon, but I'm of the local mentality. If I'm to part with them, then I need to know they're nearby. My husband and I are giving serious thought to building a Little Free Library in our front yard. It'll help in some instances, but not all.
     For the time being, I've committed myself to more library visits, and less book-buying. I own many books of fiction. I've read most of them, but I probably won't read many a second time. These will find a another home. Reconnecting with my library would allow me to borrow a book, and if it sweeps me off my feet, I can always buy it later. As with thoughts of a curbside library, I'm thinking of purchasing a digital reader for newly-released books. Between parting with bought books, falling back on library borrowing, and the purchase of a digital reader, I might be able to stem the tide of book overload.

I'm working toward more than one solution for book overflow. Are you? What ideas can you share?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Care: Horizontal vs. Vertical vs. Jumbled Up

     A conundrum has entered the life of this bibliophile: How do I get more space from the bookshelves in my life? It's a toughie, and a solution must be found posthaste because book-shopping blitzes were made while I traveled the Southwest this summer.
     I've surveyed our modest library for a book/bookcase ratio, taking into consideration the physical size of  the books housed. Standard-sized hardback occupies most of the collection with a smattering of over-sized volumes. Soft-covers and paperbacks are to be found in the mix––mostly of the literary-journal variety. I also have a few shelves of autographed books, first editions, and a few vintage volumes in fragile condition.
     Bookcases have been designated (whole or partial) by genre––fiction, nonfiction, poetry, memoir, art, art history, gardens and gardening, the natural world, and travel. The problem is the amount of books continually expands and there's not much space for buying a new bookshelf. Tempting as it is,  floor stacking is out of the question, as is building an addition to the house.
     The options, then, for stacking the new armload of books brought home are limited: do I convert some shelves from vertical stacking to horizontal stacking, or do I combine both methods and have a jumbled arrangement.

     I prefer vertical stacking, actually. For one, it conveys a sense of order, and second, it makes it easier to take a book off a shelf. This option lends itself well to the genre organizing of my housed literary delights, BUT you get fewer books on the shelves.
     Horizontal, on the other hand, lends itself to housing like-minded books together, and gives more space for added books. I accommodate more paperbacks and soft-covers with this method, but it conveys a slightly disordered appearance (it's all in the eye of the beholder, though, isn't it?), AND it's a tad more difficult to retrieve a book from the middle or the bottom.

     I grew attached to the vertical method. I grew attached to the horizontal method. Et voila! The Jumbled Effect! There's still a method to my "madness," but I've squeezed more space from existing book shelves that now occupy every room in my house. Also, I made an aesthetic sacrifice, and it seems to be working––for the reasons noted above. The outcome is that I have found the way my books are placed has become more interesting, and it gives my shelves more of a quirky personality. At the front of the shelf, I've placed small-framed photos or objects to create a still life. Am I going "decorative" shelving? I don't think so. Photos and meaningful objects need their display space as well.

     What do the aesthetes, the conservationists, have to say about this? This is what I found from the American Institute for Conservation of Historical and Artistic Works :
It is extremely important that books stood vertically on shelves are squarely upright and firmly supported by neighboring books or by bookends. Leaning at an angle puts stress on the entire book structure, deforming the spine and the joints where the covers are attached. Bookends must be stable and smooth so as not to damage the covers. Books should not be packed together so tightly,however, that they are difficult to remove without causing damage. Large,oversized books are best laid horizontally in stacks of no more than two or three high. Protective pads, such as squares of polyester felt, may be placed between stacked books to prevent them from rubbing.
     So having read the conservationists' point of view, you knew this was coming: how do YOUR books stack? But before you answer that, take a glimpse at this animated clip of one person's view of organizing a bookcase. After watching the short clip, let me know your answer of how you stack your books.
Organizing the Bookcase

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Care: Lending Books

How hard, when those who do not wish
To lend, that's lose, their books,
Are snared by anglers; folks that fish
With literary hooks;

Who call and take some favourite tome
But never read it through;
They thus complete their set at home,
By making one at your.

Behold the bookshelf of a dunce
Who borrows; never lends;
Yon work, in twenty volumes, once
Belonged to twenty friends.

     When will I learn? Books lent are never returned.
     A generalization, I know. But the fact of the matter is that of the last seventeen books I've lent to friends, they've either not returned them; or, when asked for their return the borrowers became surly. What gives with this? Do I look naive? Am I perceived as bankrolling another's library collection? Is it assumed I won't miss the book?

     When I lend a book to a friend who has complimented the contents of my personal library, I do so with a generosity of spirit. Inwardly, I smile on his/her taste, interests, acumen, and above all the desire to know more. This is "spreading the wealth" at its finest. I lend. He/She will return. But in effect, I've said "au revoir," "adios," "arrivederci," or "sudie" (if you're Lithuanian).
     I realize there have been times I, too, borrowed a book. I took it home, and made sure it didn't get lost in the shuffle of my volumes. I  began to read it, and life took over: other needs, must do's, and ought to's (not to mention reading priorities) set in, and before I knew it the borrowed book became part of my collection. Three come to mind, and I'll confess their titles: The Etruscans, 1066 And All That, and Dumbth. I remember the fateful days their owners handed the books to me. I've since lost contact with the rightful guardians, and haven't a clue where they live. Borrowed volumes occupy my shelves, and if I'm not able to return them does this make me a biblioklept? If so, Mea culpa!

     I've come up with a watertight plan for not lending out books, or for having lent books returned. If you, too, share my problem––feel free to borrow from it.
     - I NO longer lend books. Rather, I jot the title/author/publishing year and date on a slip of paper, and tell the requestor to check it out at their friendly Indie Bookstore or Library.
     - If I break the above rule, I affix a bookplate or Ex Libris to the inside front cover or title page of the book to be borrowed. My bookplates are simple with a heading of From the Library of,  under which I'm able to write my name (indelible ink) on a provided line. More elaborate or decorative bookplates can be found, and some chide the recipient to return the book, as in: Steal not this book for fear of shame/For here you see the owner's name.
     A Japanese bookplate dating back to 1470 (cited by James P. Keenan) carried an especially powerful warning:     To steal this book closes the gates of heaven,
                                  And to destroy it opens the gates of hell.
                                  Anyone who takes this book without permission
                                  Will be punished by all the gods of Japan.

     After that, I have the borrower place his right hand on the Family Bible to swear to the book's return in a specified amount of time.
     Or, I'll have the borrower pledge his first-born son, car, house, or some other object of desire by me, the lender.
     If any or all of the above fails, I can chose to forget about the lapse, ratchet down the worth of the borrower, and buy a replacement, hoping against hope that what I lent was not a first edition or autographed copy.
     If I am the borrower––well, let me assure you, that the prospect of having a red-lettered sign hung around my neck announcing I am a BIBLIOKLEPT––is enough for me to return the book, pronto.

Am I alone in these matters? Have your books been lent out never to be seen again? How did you resolve it?

*a singular pronoun will be used from this point forward.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Pot o' Gold

Our Pot o' Gold after a tunnel-shaped
rainstorm fading in the background.
     I recently spent two weeks out West exploring national canyon parks leading to the Grand Canyon. It was not my first visit. It will not be my last. I am smitten by the land's diversity and vastness. Its appeal to me is emotional, otherworldly, and poetic, and will hold me in awe and inspiration for years to come. Like the Florida Everglades, the vast stretch of canyon lands in the Western United States is unique to the world.
     We started our trip with hiking in the 23,000-acre Colorado National Monument, outside Grand Junction, Colorado. From there, we descended to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, both outside Moab, Utah. We drove, walked, and saw landscape that went on and on, yet subtle changes happened at every bend. Mountains without trees became treed mountains, rounded horizons turned jagged, and waterless river beds transformed into streams, falls, and The Confluence––the coming together of the Green and Colorado Rivers––at the heart of Canyonlands. 
     Over our heads floated great skies, clouds, and hawks, and eagles. Pinnacles, domes, and turrets captured your eye and imagination. Flying buttresses of stone-supported fins, windows, and portals. And everywhere four common denominators prevailed: the air was pure, the heat relentless, the sun blistering, and the need for water was constant.
     There was (and still is) much to see, and the best part of it cannot be done from inside of a car. For me, I had to traverse this land by foot (crawling and scooting on bums included), or suffer in my future for not having been "up close and personal." I realize not everyone can visit this land the way I did, so I'll borrow from Wallace Stegner, "Those who haven't the strength or youth to go into it and live, can simply sit and look." 
     The Canyons, in all their vastness, are primitive, lovely and terrible, static and convulsing, and unspoiled and spoiled. Important to note is that some of the spoiled comes from nature's forces; increasingly more comes from the hands of man.
May I have one for my garden, please?
      Days lingered in the Southwest desert, and in short order I packed away a wristwatch not to be seen until my flight home. I chose not to know the hours of the days. When curious, I looked for my shadow knowing the compass direction in which I was headed. Time became spacious. Time became freeing.
     On this trip, we also traveled Cataract Canyon on a four-day river trip (Western Rivers Expeditions). Cataract's rapids rank along with those of the Grand Canyon in power and difficulty. We hurtled through 30 rapids (one Class V), rode Rapids 21, 22, and 23, which comprise The Big Drop with a fall of thirty feet in less than a mile––one of the Colorado's steepest stretches. We greeted The Confluence, and felt and saw the remote and hidden heart of the Canyon. 
     Our raft trip traversed the Colorado River corridor that cuts through 277 miles of earth, and is punctuated by eighty-five named rapids. Of that river length, we traveled 100 miles at roughly thirty miles a day. When not running the rapids, our party of thirty-eight drifted on placid currents enjoying the wonders around us, and the end-of-day sandy campsites––including having our shoes sucked off our feet by quicksand as we alighted at water's edge. 
     Daily, our five guides selected climbs into the red sandstone walls that convulsed up from beneath the River's depths. We hiked past/over/under monumental boulders, and across landscaped peppered with Prickly Cactus, Mormon Tea, and other plants. We were prompted to enjoy swimming in the chocolate-milk river (silt churned up by the grind of rushing currents along the River's floor and against its walls). We women in the group referred to it as the "mud spa." No effort was required to stroke, as the River's pace carried us downstream quickly. Such refreshing refreshment I wouldn't have thought of before this trip.   

     From the bottom of the mile-deep Canyon, we  spent a lot of time looking up magnificently-sculpted walls of saturated reds, yellows, greens, purples, grays, browns, and every hue in between. Morning, afternoon, and evening heightened, refined, or diminished the intensity of colors. Did I mention that our raft traveled under the cliff from which Thelma and Louise chose to drive their car?
     Edward Abbey wrote in Desert Solitaire that "... you cannot get the desert into a book any more than a fisherman can haul up the sea with his nets." Imagine, then, how I felt writing this Blog Post. 
     I've brought back many images, thoughts, and future words noted in a small book I carried with me on the trip. I am filled to excess in all this. My writing will reflect it for a long time.

Have you experienced an unforgettable trip? Did you, and how did you, use your images, thoughts, feelings, or characters that were a part of it?