Can you have too many books? It’s a serious question.
My sister claims to have gone digital and have liberated her shelves.
But my book habit is worse than my IKEA habit. My husband shakes his head in despair when he sees me with another Barnes and Noble Bookstore bag. ‘Not another book’. Moving amplifies his criticism. Somehow when books come off the shelves and go into in cardboard boxes there seem to be more of them. He had to go back twice to get more book boxes. The removal men faced with the pile gave up on taking them up the stairs and dumped box after box here in the study.
Now the study is crammed full, a cardboard city of boxes in rough rows stacked 4 high. I am working through them like a miner, excavating a path as I go. Randomly I pick a box. I heave it down from the top of the pile almost toppling the boxes underneath onto myself. The description of what’s inside is written on the top of the box, so, till I get it down, I don’t know what books await inside.
Not that the label tells me much anyway. My husband packed the boxes. His descriptions are very brief – poetry books, cook books, study books, fiction…. and not always accurate. Only one box is labelled Science Fiction, when in fact, I know ( having unpacked them only a year ago) that we own an unbelievable 5 full boxes of Science Fiction books alone: a combination of my Dad’s old collection and our newer acquisitions.
Thankfully Science Fiction is something both my husband and I read so I am not the sole culprit for all those books. We also share a taste in cookbooks so I can’t take complete blame for the four shelves of large hard back illustrated cook books. He also has his own row of old programming, further maths and physics text books, half a row of flying books and half a row of management books. That’s it.
The rest of the books are down to me.
I should be terrified or ashamed of the massive stack. But actually I am more like a kid in a sweetie shop. Or my dad in a cheese shop. Or my daughter in the Sephora make up store. Or how my son used to be in a Hot Topic clothes store.
Scissors in hand I cut through the tape sealing each box and pull the cardboard flaps apart to discover the treasures within.
This box smells a bit like a Christmas cake. Cook books.
Who knew we had so many Jamie Oliver books? His smiley face looks out from 10 covers – young and boyish on Return of the Naked Chef, to calculated casual on Save with Jamie a decade later. No wonder he is a millionaire! But I’m a big Jamie fan. There is something about the unfussy artistic tastiness of his recipes that appeals. We have many other celebrity chef cook books too. Beloved TV chef Rick Stein who I can watch for hours chatting about food and would happily feed any night of the week as well as cook his recipes. My husband loves Nigella Lawson. As much for watching her pleasure as she eats her food as her skill in cooking it. I love her too: her casual – throw it in -cooking style matches mine. Her books drop flour and are patterned with indeterminate stains. It is Nigella’s How to cook’ that smells of cinnamon and nutmeg and the many batches of Christmas cookies I have made from it. Unpacking them makes me hungry.
The next box is Poetry.
Poetry has its own dedicated bookcase. Whereas the amount of cook books shocks me, the amount of poetry comforts me. So many familiar books. 5 decades of word pictures from tiny slim personal poetry pamphlets to massive anthologies. The tiny red leather covered Wordsworth’s sonnets almost the first book I bought myself. Books that came afterwards mark my time studying poetry at university- TS Elliot, Phillip Larkin, Douglas Dunn, James Fenton and my time teaching poetry to teenagers; Simon Armitage, Grace Nicholls, Maya Angelo. Then there are the poetry books personal to me: Stevie Smith, Dylan Thomas, Paulo Neruda, Billy Childish. Books that walked themselves out of the bookstore with me for joy alone.
The next box has my special old and bound volumes.
Sadly they have suffered from their endless packing and unpacking and my lackadaisical care. I prefer to read books than look at them. I am the number one suspect for the crime of spine breaking or page folding or worse page ripping! Classic fiction next. George Elliott, Jane Austin, James Joyce, Harper Lee, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare and others dog eared from decades of reading share a bookcase with a variety of non fiction from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to The Guide to Keeping Chickens in Your Backyard. The bottom shelf is children’s picture books I just couldn’t part with: The Gruffalo, Puff the Magic Dragon, Little Bear, Naughty Parents, The Grouchy Ladybug. How I loved reading them again and again to my kids when they were small, sitting on my lap their small sticky fingers turning the pages. Their excited voices joining in with the story ‘Hey you want to fight?’ As the Ladybug or telling off the ‘Naughty’ parents.
The next box I open is labelled ‘Fiction’ but is actually science fiction. I sigh. This means a trek upstairs as Science Fiction is going upstairs in my dad’s room. I have already filled the bookcase there so I am now using shelves in the walk in closet.
Soon I have filled the bookcases in the dining room too. Then I remember there is a bookcase in the games room. Currently it only has only has two shelves used for Computer games and DVDs so plenty of room for the left over teen and general best sellers.
With all these books my husband’s original theory/ plan was to make the study a library: something he knows that I’ve always wanted. But I like the sight of books around me. Which is just as well, I think, as I gaze at the remaining full boxes of my psychology, education and special needs books. These will easily fill my half of the study book wall just on their own.
As I carry on unpacking in one corner of the room the flattened empty cardboard moving boxes stack higher and higher.
At last its done. Every book has a home and I can walk my way around the house never more than a few quick paces from a book. No fear of having to go cold turkey on books for me. To me this feels like bliss. Because as far as I am concerned you can never too many books. In fact I feel a trip to Barnes and Noble bookstore coming on. It’s nearly Christmas and what better present than a book?