The Open Bookshelf

It’s been said that if Jews, Christians and Muslims are “the People of the Book” then Pagans are “the People of Books.”  I certainly fit that description.

I love books.  Not just the sacrament of reading, the joy of learning, and the mystery of stories – I love the books themselves.  I love the feel of their weight in my hands and the texture of the paper on my fingers.  I love that magical smell that paper, ink and glue combine to make.

And I love the way they look when neatly and methodically organized onto shelves.  While one of the greatest benefits of e-readers is that I don’t have to buy more bookshelves, one of the greatest downsides is that I don’t get to buy more bookshelves.  Full bookshelves make me feel wealthy in a way that has little to do with the monetary cost of either the books or the shelves.

Beyond my romantic and religious ideas about them, though, books are useful things.  The internet is good for finding information, but books are better for finding knowledge.  Hardly a day goes by that I’m not reaching for this book or that book to refresh my memory, find a quote, dig deeper into a topic or simply to find a resource to recommend to a student or a friend.

But in order for books to be useful you have to be able to find them.  As my bookshelves have filled, I’ve resorted to stacking books in front of books and to shelving new books anywhere they fit.  While I pick up The Druidry Handbook and Earth Prayers so often my hand knows where to reach without looking, most books are filed in a general area:  the Druid shelf or the Hutton books or the recently-read science section.  I can’t tell you how many times in the past few months I’ve reached for a book and it wasn’t where I thought it should be.  Sometimes it took a few seconds of looking to find it; sometimes it took several minutes of searching.  And on two occasions I couldn’t find it at all.  I don’t know if I misplaced them, if loaned them out and they haven’t come back, or if the “good folk” decided to move them for me.

Too much of a good thing is still too much, and even comfortable clutter has real costs.

Beyond that, the symbolism of a full bookshelf isn’t helpful at a time when I’m trying to make a major step forward in my spiritual life.  A full bookshelf says “I’m complete” and “I’m finished” and perhaps most troubling “I don’t have room for anything more.”

And so over the Labor Day weekend I cleared out clutter and rearranged bookshelves.  I don’t have room for more bookshelves in my office, so I started by getting rid of a bookcase full of VHS tapes in the bedroom.  Those should have been gone a long time ago.  Actually, most of them should never have been bought or recorded in the first place, but that’s another rant for another time.  Getting rid of the tapes let me move a lot of fiction out of my office.  That created enough shelf space to undo the double-stacking and put similar books together.  The accompanying photo shows the most dramatic of the changes, but all my office bookshelves now have space available.

Now I can find things faster.  Now I can browse more effectively.  And now I have room for more.

Some of that open space will be used to shelve the books I need to read in the coming months.  Some will be used for unbookish things that need to be displayed in a prominent place.

And some will be held open as a reminder that learning is never finished.

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  • Josh

    Sounds about like my bookshelf; overflowing with stuff that both the wife and I have read, with more in boxes somewhere. Having moved to an e-reader over the past year, I managed find a nice app that will display an organized “bookshelf” for your titles. If anything, it keeps the wife from griping about my books taking up space.

    Unfortunately, despite the convenience, I have found it doesn’t replace the feel of an actual book. There is something about feeling the pages and weight of it. The feel of the binding and the smell of the pages.
    Although I have to admit, I would have rather had an ebook instead of the stone tablet of a book for my insurance licensing courses. But that is a different topic.

  • Tommy Elf

    I actually like my iPad and its electronic library. My big problem is that I tend to read books that do not have eBook versions. And I sincerely doubt that University of Oklahoma Press, University of Kansas Press, and University of Montana Press are going to republish those books in eBook format. But if I have a choice between an eBook version and a paper version – I tend to opt for the eReader version. –T

  • Reorganizing my bookshelves is something I do about 3 or 4 times a year. My wife will walk into the room one day to find piles of books covering every inch of the floor, and she will say, “Oh, so it’s that time again?!” You might even call it part of my spiritual practice. I helps me refocus and re-energize.