Our Bookshelves, Ourselves

The Bookcase Pop Built

The Bookcase Pop Built

My dad built this bookcase before I can remember. It’s in many of the photos where I’m less than a year old, making it more or less sixty. He fastened the pieces together with finish nails.

The bookcase is now half as tall as it used to be. I inherited the bottom half and my brother has the top. It never had many books on it, unless you count the scrapbooks of our family vacations. Mom made one of those each year.

Pop in his twenties

Pop in his twenties

Mary and I had the bookcase in storage for a while after selling the Vancouver, WA condo we’d bought to be close to Pop but give Mary a place to continue her mortgage business. With Pop gone and the mortgage business imploding with the rest of the financial sector, we didn’t need the condo anymore and were able to sell it. The bookcase and other stuff went into storage.

The more-or-less instant collecting of stuff forces one to consider “do we really need this?” The bookcase is no expensive heirloom, judging from the knots in the wood, Pop fashioned it from inexpensive shop-grade pine. The answer was yes. It’s simply priceless.

As we looked for where to put the folks’ bookcase, we found our current bookshelves groaning under the weight of books. In some cases, we’d stacked books on top of books and had the rows double-parked. We took semi-immediate action.

We closed the door. Can’t be too careful.

We then had the brilliant idea to cull books out. Perhaps we could make a little money from Powell’s Books. But what is the right way to decide which books to keep and which to part with?

An essay by Laura Miller titled, “The Well-Tended Bookshelf” on nytimes.com caught my eye. She too had noticed that her collection had “metastasized” and soon she might be overwhelmed by paper.

She says there are two schools of thought about book collections. They are either, 1) “a self-portrait, a reflection of the owner’s intellect, imagination, taste and accomplishments” or 2) “less as a testimony to the past than as a repository for the future; it’s where you put the books you intend to read.”

In they end, using a method of each of us picking the sell/donate books off the shelf and then the other having veto over the other’s selection, we found that it’s a combination of the two systems.

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Book Help Desk

The Medieval Tech Support skit taken from the show “Øystein og jeg” on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)in 2001. It is in Norwegian with English subtitles. It remains my favorite YouTube video.

According to the notes it features Øystein Backe (helper)and Rune Gokstad (desperate monk) and ws written by Knut Nærum.

With Kindles, E-Readers and other Digital Book devices, who knows? It may be that this skit isn’t so far off–in the future.

By the way, Nathan Bransford has posted a helpful on review on his Kindle.

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Two Second Drill

This last Sunday, one statement on a segment of CBS Sunday Morning titled, The Name Game caught me up short. Mostly Charles Osgood looked “at famous book titles, including the stories behind “Catch-22” with legendary editor Robert Gottlieb and “Winnie The Pooh” with British columnist Gary Dexter.” He talked about the naming of famous books like Catch-22 (originally titled Catch-18), The Postman Always Rings Twice (originally titled Barbeque), and 1984 (originally titled The Last Man in Europe).

But what made me sit up was that they talked about the effect the title has on a potential reader. A book’s title tries to encapsulate what’s in the book. In the piece Charles Osgood says, “A title is no small matter, because readers really do judge a book by its cover. … shoppers give a book just two seconds to make an impression before moving on.”

Two seconds. Those first words and the book’s blurb had better be great.


It reminds of the the Hemingway challenge to write a story in six words. Hemingway wrote,
“For sale: baby shoes, never used.” I also like, Horny professor. Failing coed. No tenure. –“A Short History of Academia,” by Sue Grafton

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