I have too many books. There. I said it. But I don’t actually believe it. Not at all. In fact, I don’t believe that it’s possible to possess too many books. But as I seem to have run out of places to put them, it seems like I have too many books. However, I would argue that I actually have too few bookshelves. Yeah, I like this argument much better, so I’ll stick with it. Boom.
Yesterday afternoon, I attempted to find homes on my bookshelves for my most recent acquisitions, which, being homeless (shelf-less?), have been bouncing around other areas of the house. But, paperback novels, autobiographies, and travel guides belong not on the coffee table (with my ever-increasing number of coffee table books, most of which are full of photographs of Great Britain), but on my shelves amongst the rest of the lot. While I was successful, I basically maxed out every bit of available shelf space. But, I found a home for everything. My crammed but organised bookshelves looked beautiful and I felt a small sense of accomplishment…until I remembered the boxes of books I still have in storage from my Literature courses at UC Santa Cruz. This realisation simply re-enforced my argument that I have too few bookshelves.
As I dusted and rearranged my beloved books, I was reminded of my course book acquisition excursions. My Literature professors at UCSC rarely ordered their required texts (with the exception of readers) through the campus bookstore, opting instead for the Literary Guillotine on Locust Street. While its name may give you pause, picture a bibliophile’s concept of heaven: a small, two room shop wherein every shelf is crammed and every corner stuffed with books. Novels, biographies, anthologies. Contemporary, classic, Victorian, post-colonial, medieval, theoretical. Shelved, stacked. Glorious organised chaos. All that was missing was a comfy chair, a pot of tea, and a cosy fire and I could’ve stayed there forever…well, until the meter ran out. One quarter required a total of seventeen texts and set me back roughly $435, but I’d rather blow money on books than anything else and these routine treks to the Guillotine were like wonderful, required, expensive field trips. And they always threw in great stickers…
I suppose my bookshelves are rather predictable for someone who majored in 18th-20th Century English Lit and who is unhealthily obsessed with British culture in general. As you might expect, pride of place (thanks to the alphabet) goes to the beloved works of Jane Austen, where a compilation of her completed works is kept company by two more copies of Pride and Prejudice (I’ve somehow managed to misplace three others) and an additional copy of Persuasion (my favourite). Agatha Christie isn’t far behind and her collection stretches across two shelves. A collection spanning from Geoffrey Chaucer to P.G. Wodehouse, from (roughly) the 700’s (Beowulf) to the 2000’s (James) culminates with the Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume II. Volume I was purchased for the Traditional British Canon course and is wallowing in storage. Volume II was purchased for fun; 3,072 pages of fun. Two shelves of nonfiction works follow, covering everything from the history of film to World War I, from Jennifer Worth’s Call the Midwife to Simon Schama’s three-volume History of Britain to assorted British travel books. And, of course, my British Drama companion books.
Constant book purchasing is hardly a surprising compulsion for a Literature major. From new and over-priced to old and under-valued, I can’t help but buy them. And read them. And sometimes they’re paper and fabric oysters that yield unexpected pearls. A visit to alibris.com (a wonderful source for used books) netted me twelve James Hilton novels for roughly fifteen dollars, most of them first editions (probably because later editions were never needed). While browsing through their title pages for their publication years (1930’s and 1940’s), I made a mind blowing discovery: There on the first page of The Case of Dr. Wassell (a biography) was a dedication from James Hilton…and from the book’s subject, naval physician and Navy Cross recipient Corydon M. Wassell. A largely forgotten, first edition signed by its creator (one of my very favourite authors) and its subject for less than the cost to ship it.
As I was rearranging the various bits and bobs that share shelf space with my books and give my bookshelves an even more personal flair, I remembered why I majored in English Literature. It was because I simply couldn’t have majored in anything else. History or Film Studies would have made wonderful minors or secondary majors, but my British-centric love of Literature left me only one academic path. My dream of teaching Lit never panned out and I haven’t yet found my way to making an English Lit-based living, but for my last two years of college, I was able to eat, sleep, and breathe the works of literary greats, instilling in me a love of the books that shall always endure. That’s something I value even more than my shelves of books, of which I will never have enough.
“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” ~~ Jane Austen