Building a Library

When the prospect of finally moving from the old Casa Jaquandor into a new Casa Jaquandor started shaping into more of a realistic goal than a “here’s something we should do one day” dream, maybe a year-and-a-half ago, there were a number of thoughts that flashed through my mind:

“A space of our own, where we can put whatever we want on the walls or plant whatever we want in the yard!”

“A kitchen large enough for our kitchen stuff! A kitchen with enough counters to be able to prep multiple phases of a meal without having to completely clear one spot constantly!”

“The Daughter can have an actual room of her own, as opposed to half a room which is half storage for our stuff!”

“Space for The Wife’s sewing machines and crafting stuff!”

And, for me, one glaring notion:

“A new writing space with enough room for books to be on shelves, as opposed to stacks everywhere I turn!

The old space was…well, it wasn’t so much a space, as a hollowed-out corner. I ran out of shelf space for books many, many, many moons ago, to the point where books just started going into stacks on the floor, tucked into corners and piled beside my desk itself. My desk was an awful clutter, and frankly, sitting down to work felt less like sitting down at a desk so much as climbing into a cramped cockpit. Looking back now, I wonder how I managed to get as much work done there as I did; in the last few years, there have been three complete novels and half of a fourth, in addition to all the various bloviation I pile into this space.

Worst of all, my books felt less like a collection or a working library than a massive horde of crap gathered at random over the years. Eventually I had to stop going to those used book sales at the public library, because I simply didn’t have room for all the treasures I often found from there anymore. I got a lot more selective with the books I bought, and still, they piled up in unacceptable states of inaccessibility. Yes, there are books I forgot I owned (though I didn’t end up with multiple copies unknowingle), but that mattered little; I reached the point where I knew I couldn’t find a specific book a lot of the time, so it just languished unread in some stack, some pile, someplace.

I fooled myself for a long time into thinking that I loved that space, until I finally came to the realization, when moving was a possibility, that I hated it. I mean, look at this mess!


So when it finally came to pass that we found a new living space and that it might be ours, I knew that I was possibly going to be able to convert an entire room into my “book room”, my “study”, my “library”, my “writing space”. I’m still not sure what I call it. But it’s amazing.

It started with a room.

Yes, the deep blue walls would have to go, but first, into the room came…boxes.
Boxes begat more boxes….
…which begat more boxes….

 Then the painters came, and away went the deep blue in favor of a brighter, more soothing amethist.

Along with more boxes.

And more.

Finally, they were all over here, all boxed up (minus half-a-dozen large bags of books that I decided were better served in someone else’s library, so off they went to the local public one as offerings in their next used book sale). This took me probably about six weeks, packing up four or five boxes of books at a time and driving them over. Luckily, New Casa Jaquandor is only a few miles away from Old Casa Jaquandor, so it wasn’t like I had to drive an hour each way or anything. But it did get pretty tiring, nonetheless; lugging boxes of books up and down stairs is never fun.

This felt weird, for a while, not having any real access to any of my books, and it took a toll on my writing productivity. There really is something of an osmotic process to being in the presence of lots of books. I find their presence conducive to getting work done, and when they were all boxed up, I felt so out of sorts that I ended up not writing at all when the move finally drew near. But I knew that soon it would be time to start unpacking them all and getting them on shelves.

Which meant, buying and assembling new shelves. I didn’t want anything ridiculously expensive, and I certainly didn’t need any specialty cabinets built. I kicked around for a bit the notion of building my own as a carpentry project, but I rejected that for now on the basis that I want to be set up to work now, and not at some indeterminate point in the future when I get a chance to build something, which would certainly be later rather than sooner. Besides, to me, bookshelves are a purely functional thing; what matters is the books. So I ended up buying four of these units, since they’re a good size and they actually match one unit I already have.

So, then came…assembly time!

What I always find is that assembling more than one of the same unit goes faster with each one, once I’m familiar with the procedure. These actually went together pretty quickly, probably taking on average around an hour for each one. Maybe a bit less, actually. Then it was time to start setting them up:

Obviously, I needed to level things up a bit! These units actually come with a bracket which you use to secure them to the walls by drilling into the wall stud, so they’re actually really sturdy. If anything ever happens sufficient to make these shelves fall over, well, I’ll likely have bigger fish to fry at that moment.

These units take up one entire wall of my library. I used my other shelving units — collapsible bookcases that fold flat for travel when not laden — in the opposite corner, two tall units (one of which is actually two bookcases stacked) behind my desk in the corner, one on the other side of my desk, and one next to the door. Now I was ready to start shelving.

It was somewhat serendipitous that Dr. Sagan’s shelf started first, because that’s what I found in the first box of books I opened. But there he was! And that brings me to something else that has eluded me for years: organization.

In the past, I’ve always had books in a mishmash, scattered all over the place, nonfiction mixed with fiction, and authors with their own books scattered all over the place. I wanted to reduce that, if not eliminate it. Carl Sagan’s books are all together now, on one shelf, and his shelf is alongside a few others filled with science-related titles. I tried to keep most of my history works together, my travel writing together, my books on movies together, fantasy books together, and so on. I have a science fiction shelf and an entire poetry area. All my Star Wars books reside together, and my art books and graphic novels all take up one entire bookcase. JRR Tolkien and Guy Gavriel Kay each get an entire shelf (with room on the GGK shelf for his next novel in hardcover, and then I’ll have to start thinking a bit), and both of these are on the shelves by my desk so they’re always right there next to me.

This entire process was mostly enjoyable, although it was at times a bit overwhelming:

Going through everything in a more controlled manner allowed me to take more stock of my collection, and I ended up filling two more boxes with books to be donated to the library. Weeding is always useful, and I plan to do it more often now that I’m in a state where I can look at things and assess them more readily. I greatly downsized my Philosophy collection, most of which were texts I acquired whilst studying Philosophy in college. In most cases I just had to eventually admit that my reading interests are unlikely to take me into places like twentieth-century analytic philosophy again, and to be honest, I found this part of the process less emotional than I expected. When keeping a book depends on moving it, it’s easier to ditch it.

Anyway, the job finally got done, for the most part — at least as far as the books are concerned.

What’s left? Decorating and more organization. I have a closet in this room, which is nice; I’ll be able to create an “archive” of sorts for stuff to go live in there, stuff that routinely got piled elsewhere. I need to get my various knick-knacks out and about; currently all my little spaceships are still in a box because I’m not sure what to do with them, and I need a basket of some sort to toss my car keys and all the various things I carry around in my pockets when I’m at work. At the old place I just piled this shit in a spot on the top of my desk, but I don’t want to do that anymore. I have two narrow bookcases, twelve-inches wide, that will be for various writing supplies, but I discovered the other day that they do not fit the binders I use for my manuscripts, so I may need to acquire another small bookcase. I need to arrange candles, and right now as I write this, I have no idea where my coasters are. I can’t just put beverage vessels down on bare wood! That’s just not right!

Oh, I got myself a new desk lamp. I didn’t really care for the old one, a silver aluminum thing with a white plastic shade. This seems more…I don’t know, Philip Marlowe-esque. Why I’d want to look more Philip Marlowe-esque, I have no idea, but this seems anyway more like a lamp a writer uses. Hey, what can I say. Sometimes you do want to at least look the part, and I don’t have a wastepaper basket full of rejected pages from my Next Great American Novel.

I have some wall art that I want to get up, but I’ll need to do some framing, and that’s going to have to wait for a few weeks while we finish getting all our crap out of the old place. I’ve already hung my Phantom Menace poster, and I have a Star Wars: A New Hope poster to go up too, as well as three Japanese lobby cards for the Original Trilogy that I’ve keep carefully stored for years (a reader sent them to me, anonymously, way longer ago than I like admitting — if you’re still out there, Reader, thank you so much!), which will also go up. And so it goes.

I’m settling in. The place is becoming home, and I have a place to work. In the old place, I had books in just about every room; now they’re all in here, and I’ve decided I want it that way. I’ll read in my bedroom and living room and dining room, but I don’t want to be surrounded by this aspect of my life anymore, except for when I want to be surrounded by it (which is often). I keep returning to these posts by Sheila O’Malley about when she moved and had to rebuild her entire library, and among the many wonderful things in those posts (seriously, read them, they’re among the best things I’ve ever read in blog form), she says this:

“I don’t want any books in my bedroom. My bedroom is for sleep and moisturizing and loving. I’m sick of sleeping surrounded by 5,000 books.”


So there I am. Time to start working again, eh? Onward and upward! Zap! Pow!!

(Yes, I’ve added “splat” to my roster of standard sound effects. Seems pretty obvious, with the pies and all.)

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4 Responses to Building a Library

  1. Unknown says:

    I'm in the process of moving myself and I'm getting an office space too. I don't have that many bookcases, but I do have a dwarf closet!
    Love the pictures, by the way. Congrats on the new space!

  2. SK Waller says:

    Wow, that's inspiring. I want a room of my own, too!

  3. Kal says:

    That is spectacular. As a collection it's all about how you show off your favorite stuff. I just want to close the door and look at everything.

  4. Roger Owen Green says:


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