Story Salon: The Bookshelf

This story was read aloud at Story Salon (.com) on Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

The Bookshelf

     I’d wanted to tell you a story about a bookshelf who, like the Luddites, went out and hideously destroyed all the Kindles.
     But Beverly has this thing about us telling true stories, so I’ll tell you a different story tonight, lacking in sex and violence, so it probably won’t be as exciting.
     I built a new bookshelf.
     See I told you it wasn’t as exciting.
     But -if I do say so- it’s a really cool bookshelf.
     I came across the idea some time ago, to build a bookshelf out of books. Books to hold up the shelves that hold up the books.
     So I wandered thrift stores collecting books and started to build, but I came across a number of problems. The first is that books are not structurally sound. So I drilled holes in all the books, and fitted a threaded rod for strength.
     The second problem was balance. I had decided on stacks of books on the edges of the shelves. But finding books that were exactly the same thickness was almost impossible, so I decided instead to cut them in half. One half of the book on one side, the other half on the other side.
     Perfectly balanced.
     So I went and cut a Douglas Adams in half, a Fitzgerald, a London, a Shakespeare, and seventy other books.
     Sacrilege, some said.
     Art, others said.
     A way to spend my time, so I don’t drink, I mumbled to no one.

     This week I finished my second bookshelf, this is one of travel books. A continent per shelf, excluding Antarctica, because I dare you to find 10 travel books on Antarctica.
     At the base three atlases hold the weight of the world on their shoulders.
     Once the shelf was finished, and installed in my room, I had a happy hour of installing the books on the shelves. I put them, as always, in alphabetical order.
     And yes, I like to play solitaire as well.
     When done, I sat in my room and looked at my new shelf, and realized one of the reasons why I like my home. There are 5 people who live here, and we have eleven bookshelves. All of them filled with books. Two of them are our own public library, friends are invited to bring books when they arrive, and take books when they go. Although as of yet, I can’t get anyone to take any of the DragonLance books away.
     A number of my friends are getting rid of their bookshelves, Audrey told me of a once full bedside table, that is now just a Kindle.
     So I sat looking at my books and bookshelves and wondered why it was I liked them so much.
     I sat and wondered why it was that I love books, and my first thought, as usual, was self inflicted hate, what someone else would say who wanted to hurt me. That I keep these books just to impress people, there is no reason for me to keep these books, other than to show off. I don’t know why mind always goes there first. Straight into tearing myself down.
     I try to fight against it, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes alcohol helps, but most of the time it makes it worse.
     So I forced my thoughts into another track, and realized that the books, and the bookshelves are a history of my life.
     Sitting in the top left corner is Douglas Adams. When he passed away in 2001 my only thought was to call Matt. Later he told me the tone in my voice scared him, it sounded like a good friend had died. Maybe he had.
     Next to Adams is Edward Abbey, which was read while spending time with Kasey in her warm room and crazy house. Ten years later she was selling up before going traveling, and now it sits on my shelf.
     There is the science fiction I have been through, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Wyndham, Bradbury, Dick. Some of them I have been back to again and again, like an old friend in times of trouble.
     A whole slew of Enid Blyton books, English children in the 1940’s, having adventures and solving crimes, I read them all, as did my mom when she was young.
     From there I moved onto Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators, an alternate version of the Hardy Boys, where they lived in their dads junk yard, made hidden tunnels, built things and did science.
     There are also the Camus, the Kesey, and the Kerouac’s of late high school and early college, oh that time of trying to figure shit out. It seems like that has never ended.
     There are the Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s stolen from my mom.
     There are specific books for specific people. Somerset Maugham and Jennifer. The two of us tromping through the Alaskan snow together.
     Jan Morris makes me think of Kristine and Powell’s bookstore in Portland.
     Susan Morrow’s book, The Name of Things, reminds me of an uncomfortable time make more comfortable by living with Kate.
     Aldus Huxley’s ‘The Devil’s of Loudon’ a true story describing the church’s torturing and killing witches in France. That was given to me by Frank Interlandi, the drunken painter who came into my bar every afternoon. He laughed sarcastically when he told me the story of accidentally capturing Germans in 1944.
     And my dad, and his British humor, with his name for the next Biggles book: Biggles Combs His Hair.
     Black Beauty is the first book I cried to, I remember finishing it in one of my classes, it must have been between 4th and 6th grade, because I can still see the room. I remember being ashamed and keeping my head down so no one would see the tears.
     And then there are places, Pascal’s Pensees in France, Vecram Seth in India, Peter Matheson in Mexico.

     I guess I really don’t need these books to remember, but there is another reason to keep all these books, they are like old friends when I need to disappear. When I can’t run away to the hills, or to another continent, they help me recharge, so I can face the world again.
     They are always there, the Terry Pratchetts have been read over and over again. I continuously go back to the Adams, the Heinlein, the Clarke, the Bradbury. I’ve reread Morris’s travels, Thompson’s Gonzo wanderings, and Agatha Christie, because by now, I can’t remember who done it.
     Ok, enough of that maudlin wandering in the past, its time to write that horror story, of the Luddite bookshelf tromping on the usurper Kindle.

Pictures of the bookshelves are here on my blog, click below to see:
The first bookshelf
The travel bookshelf

Comments are closed.