Living in a 150 year old house means that something is always under construction. The Spencer House is like life itself, always wearing down or staring at you from unfinished improvements you know are necessary.
Recently, I got a bit closer to completing my office, a mysterious room probably added onto the main house in 1880 as kitchen space. Once a bathroom was installed, a small 10 foot cube was all that was left over, which is just enough to give me a place that I can finally be organized. Personal improvement and home improvement always go together.
Part of this is 52 lineal feet of built-in bookshelf, a solid wall of books. It’s the collection of a lifetime, spanning the book on Giant Pandas I used as a writing desk when writing my first stories to my early interest in architecture. From there it hits my career as a Chemical Engineer and my hobbies in urban design and politics. Through out are bits and pieces of literature, books by Hesse and Vonnegut and Bronte and Dickinson.
Far too many of these have spent the last decade or so in boxes. This isn’t where books belong at all, because books themselves are life. Now that they are arranged on one wall, the memories of each book come back. The book on Bismarck I read sitting by the hotel pool in Brownwood, Texas. The copy of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” I read over a 16 hour period that ended when I put the book down, not having eaten or slept the entire time.
To see my own private library up there is to see my own sense of confidence. I’ve gone to the library many times with a mission and a number, a destination necessary to complete my goal. Hours later I’ve scanned the shelves all around and found some interesting things I would never have come up with on my own. But here in my own library, these are my own ideas. These are the books I wanted so much I paid good money for them and devoured them like a good meal I’ll never forget. This wall isn’t wandering around looking, it is a history of careful intent.
That’s me, up there. All 52 lineal feet of color and texture.
In this age of internet knowledge, such a great visual expanse of knowledge seems old fashioned. We’re supposed to know what we want and look it up. Browsing on the internet is a more serious business, something that takes more than a scan by the eyes and the gentle caress of the hands. You have to actually know what you want. It’s strictly an affair of the head, not the heart.
With my bookshelf up, I don’t have to limit myself to the cold glow of a CRT; I have the warmth of cloth spines and piles of paper. Since these are mine, they have more than a few ghosts that live in those pages – just like the Spencer House has its own ghosts that watched the construction of these shelves. From what I can tell, they approve.