On My Living Room Bookshelves, Mostly

Because I’m starting all the senior classes every day with a poem, I found myself at 5:30 this morning crawling on the floor in front of my new built-in living room bookshelves, searching for North Into Love by David Adams.  The book was easier to find this time than it has been–in fact, these days, all of my books are easier to find, precisely because of these new bookshelves.  The entire left side of the room is where, now, my poetry books reside (except the ones which have migrated to school, or have been borrowed and never returned, but those are stories for another time).

For all the years I’ve lived in this house, I’ve never had enough shelf space for all my books.  Not that there aren’t shelves everywhere:  the one my father built eons ago graces the pointless architectural archway in the living room (the piano didn’t fit); there was another one in the living room as well, but that’s recently moved to my bedroom, to replace the one I took to school.  My kids have bookshelves.  There are three in the computer room.  There’s one in the kitchen.  But books still piled up:  on the dining room table, on the kitchen counter,

The front wall, half-way torn out

on the floor under my bed, on top of the piano, even on the back of the toilet.  Books everywhere.  Thus when it came time to remodel the living room–I’ve been doing one room at a time over the past eight years, averaging, for time and money reasons, a room every two years–I decided that I would build bookshelves to the level of the window sills on the front wall.

It has always been a part of my fantasy life, to live in a house with wall-to-wall bookcases.  I’d never built a bookcase, but then, when I started on the first room, eight years ago (my son’s upstairs bedroom), I’d never torn out plaster and lath, I’d never put up vent chutes or insulation or strapping or sheetrock.  Compared to some of that, book shelves seemed like gravy.  And they gave me

Partially insulated living room wall...

something to look forward to, as well.  When I get done, I kept telling myself, these books’ll all be lined up, off the floors, off the chairs, off the piano, off the back of the toilet.

They’d insulate the wall, too:  books are good for that.  This thought made me happy, especially when I pulled down the plaster and lath to discover that there was not one lick of insulation in that front wall.  No wonder every gust of wind howling up the side of the mountain sliced through that room in the winter!  No wonder I spent years huddled under blankets when I’d try to read in that room.  No wonder I’d spent billions of dollars trying to stay warm in there in the winter.  I made short work of

The new wall! The new paint! The new floor!

the insulation; I stuffed those walls full.  The strapping and sheetrock followed; then a very attractive chair rail Rosalie chose (even in chair rail, that child has expensive tastes); then paint to replace the old wallpaper.  Eventually I even laid a new floor–another thing I’d never done before.  I could have stopped there, of course, but my fantasy life dictated that I go that one step further…and this past summer I finally finished the shelves.  Strangely, they were more difficult than I’d originally thought:  I drew my plans, I measured, I priced out pine shelving boards.  A floor vent for the hot air furnace forced some strange alterations.  I built,  I painted, and then–I trimmed the bottom with baseboard to match Rosalie’s chair rail.

That left the most difficult part of all:  sorting the books.  To do all this hideous remodeling, I’d emptied the room except for the piano (I just kept moving that from one side of the room to the other as I worked, which was a real pain when I started the floor).  That meant I had to bring my dad’s bookcase back.  Then I had to sort out what went where.  I wanted all the poetry books together.  I wanted all the history books together.  I wanted all the British literature together, all the American literature together.  But as I worked, the plans changed and changed again.  I had way too


many mysteries (the bubble gum of my mind):  Christie, Sayers, Tey, Dexter, Marsh, Simpson, and a host of others.  My complete sets of Trollope, of Lewis, of Tolkien–obviously those couldn’t be split up.  And then something I hadn’t really planned at all:  what was I to do with all these CDs?

I’m still not certain about the arrangement of the books.  However, as I’m now launching on the demolition of the computer room, all those shelves have to be moved out to the back bedroom, which will lead, no doubt–in another two years’ time–to further reordering.  Suffice it to say, though, that at this point, I can find my poetry books (over there on the left of the picture) at 5:30 in the morning.  This is a real victory.


Today’s poem was “Laundromat” from North Into Love by David Adams.  This was the very first book for which I ever committed petty larceny:  I “borrowed” it from a former professor, nearly 25 years ago, and simply have yet to return it.  Two years ago, when I had the opportunity to read on the same program with David Adams, I informed him that it was on his account that I turned criminal.  He seemed impressed.  Or nonplussed.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.


  1. Linda Berkowitz

    The shelves are lovely! You did a great job. I actually have dif sets of shelves for dif genres. The science and field guides and nature books go together in the dining room. Sets of books -grimes and Evanovich and some other authors you may not know go over the pc desk. Reference of all kinds and borrowed books go in the floor to ceiling next to the pc. with nick knacks and photos. And all the really good reading goes upstairs in my guest room.
    I redid my daughter’s bedroom when she moved out in a Gothic – Medieval way with beds bracketed head and foot with dark brown rough wood shelves. I was going to close in the beds with tapestry curtains but haven’t gotten there yet. The floor is a stick down tile that looks like stone. I love it and the window seat by the window too.
    I wish had enough money to redo everything.


    • I know the feeling, Linda. Everything costs so much! But a little at a time…and by the time I’m 100, the entire house will be done.

      Your bookcases sound wonderful, especially the ones in the bedroom.


  2. Jenny D

    I hear you on the bookshelves. I brought 2000 books with me from the UK (yes I *am* completely insane) and that was after I got rid of 34 boxes of them before I left. I still have one box of children’s books in the basement as yet unpacked. I have, of course, got rather a lot of books that I have acquired since I got here. Damn my GoodWill/Amazon Marketplace habit!

    Bookshelves in this house – two large floor to ceiling ones in our bedroom, plus the one next to my bed, plus the ones on the floor next to my bed, plus the pile on his bedside table. Two large ones on the landing. One in the back bedroom. Two in the front bedroom. One in his drafting office. One in the kitchen cunningly disguised as a cupboard in the island. Two large floor-to-ceiling ones in the living room, and two others in the living room. One in our office. Four large plastic boxes in our walk-in closet, all listed for sale on Amazon. I do, honestly, take bags of them to GoodWill, but I keep bringing more home.

    But most of my poetry books are all in the living room, except for the select few that are on the shelves on my bedside bookcase dedicated to ‘books by friends’, in which your chapbook has its place 🙂


    • Jenny, you are a goddess. I will give you the second chap when it comes out, to keep the first company.



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