It is a mere 11-1/2 x 13—150 square feet with one double-hung window and one small closet. Some people think it is nothing more than a room with some books.
Far from it—for it is my library.
I have no idea how many books are in this small room, since I have been adding to my collection the past 10 years or so. Every time we made the decision to move—six times in the last nine years—I would have to acquire several book boxes and then carefully pack them with my volumes. Unfortunately, some of our moves resulted in such a limited space for household use that little was left for bookshelves. They would have to remain in their boxes, and, consequently, the house never quite felt like home to me.
Our first move, to North Carolina, found us residing in two separate houses in the same town. The first home, one in which my husband chose (and I agreed to) while my daughter and I temporarily remained in Michigan, proved to have a tiny backyard unsuitable for our dogs. Plus, the driveway was so steep I was terrified I would fall off the edge once I reached the top. Our neighborhood was on the side of a mountain, and after my daughter boarded the school bus, I would watch in horror as the bus navigated the steep roads above and below me.
We soon moved to another house in the same town, and this came complete with a large outbuilding, pool and pool house. A few months later my husband began plans to build some bookshelves in the spare bedroom. But soon after, the company my husband worked for, the same company that paid for movers to pack our possessions and transport them 625 miles, reduced the pay of several employees—including my husband’s—by more than 30%!
My husband found an engineering and quality manager position in Illinois—in East Moline, which is part of the Quad Cities (Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island, Moline and now East Moline, Illinois). We found a house in Knoxville (about 45 miles away) near Galesburg, Illinois. I loved this house—it is pure mid-century—and to my delight a spare bedroom came with a built-in bookcase! It was not a large space, but my collection of books was still modest, so I was happy to have all of them on display. However, it was missing one thing—actually two things—and I knew that when I found them my “library” would be complete.
The first addition would be a desk. Not any old desk, mind you. It had to be unusual. A desk fit for a “library.” I scoured Craigslist and finally found one that showed promise. After my husband and I arrived at the owner’s home, we followed him into a large barn, and there, among bits and bobs of old furniture, sawdust and rubbish was the most beautiful desk I had ever seen. Its well-built, mid-century form captivated me. Would we be willing to pay the $125 he asked? With pleasure!
The desk is one of the heaviest pieces of furniture we own (the other being these mid-century dressers I wrote about). Its heft and shape made transport difficult, and many a mover has uttered profanities while ferrying the desk in and out of succeeding addresses.
With the desk in place, I needed one more piece of furniture–a comfy chair–and I found it at the Habitat for Humanity Restore in Galesburg. It was pure 1970’s and a steal at $35.00. When we brought it home, I steam cleaned it and removed the skirt around the bottom, exposing the legs. It was, indeed, a comfy chair and looked fabulous in my library. Unfortunately, one of our dogs, unhappy that we went away and had hired a house sitter, destroyed it.
The house we bought for our next move, to just outside Nashville, Tennessee, had an alcove just inside the door across from the dining room. My husband constructed “built-ins,” and they ran on one wall, wrapped around the corner, and continued until it reached the closet (that my husband had added). I did not have a separate room with a door, but I loved this space.
By now, I had acquired several more books, including a complete set (minus one rare volume) of Golden Guides. I treasured these books when I was young (especially the one on mammals), and a trip across the Mississippi River to a used bookstore in Bettendorf turned up several at a dollar apiece. I bought them all and was immediately hooked.
Our move to Florida was supposed to be our journey’s end. We had vacationed on Sanibel Island for many years, and even though our dream of living in Fort Myers was not realized (we purchased a house east of there), we were finally in the area we loved (or so we thought!). My “library” would truly be a library, with glass doors and beautiful walnut-stained bookshelves thanks to my husband. This photo, taken by a professional photographer when we put the house up for sale, shows about a fourth of my books as I thought it important to “stylize” the shelves.
I don’t seem to be any better at stylizing books as I am at stylizing food!
As I wrote in my book, From Prompting to Shaping to Letting Go: My Love Affair With ABA and How Being a “Bad Mom” Helped My Daughter With Autism Succeed, we realized after living two years in Lee County, Florida, that our daughter would never be able to be independent. Bus lines operated only on main roads and did not extend to Sanibel Island (where she had a job as an accounting clerk), and the housing prospects were dismal. We decided to move back to Michigan.
My current library’s footprint is smaller than the one in Florida, but my husband built extra bookcases for my burgeoning collection as I make it a habit to frequent antique shops, flea markets and library sales. Over the years I have searched for and purchased many books I read as a child and teen, and I suppose this is because they remind me of a simpler and kinder and joyful time—an era with few worries.
Last year, after I had carefully placed all of my books by subject on the freshly built and stained shelves of my library, my daughter asked if I had read them all.
“Of course not,” I answered, matter-of-factly.
She stood there, leaning against the door jamb, waiting for my reply.
“Distractions,” I finally said. “Moving, planning your road to independence, and worrying if it was enough or the right kind, researching and writing my books, writing blog posts….”
My words dwindled, echoing my thoughts.
I shook my head. “No. But to be fair, some of my books are reference only. Dictionaries, thesauruses, your workbooks and schoolbooks….”
I pointed to each group as I spoke.
“What about that one?” She had joined me in front of a group of books about autism. I tilted my head to read the spine.
“It’s about socializing your high schooler,” I told her, trying to remember the contents. I pulled out the book and skimmed it.
“I remember now. I started to read it but decided the information did not apply to you. I didn’t think it would be helpful.”
“You kept it, though.”
“Yes, I keep all of my books.”
“Even the ones you don’t like?” she asked.
“I can’t imagine giving up any of my books.”
At this, my daughter simply shrugged and left.
“If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or as it were, fondle them – peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.”
― Winston S. Churchill, Painting as a Pastime
How can I explain it? I feel at peace in this room, surrounded by my books, and its essence is calming and restful and at once contemporary and indicative of a bygone era. This space houses tomes of history and spans from a medical book published in 1865 to one written by yours truly in October. It represents subjects that were important to me in the past, are now treasured in the present and will be cherished hereafter.
“Reading—even browsing—an old book can yield sustenance denied by a database search.”– James Gleick
You will no doubt believe my library to be small, but I prefer to think of it as cozy, and even though it bears no likeness to Admont Abbey Library in Admont, Austria (feature image), it is My Dream Library.