The angst of finite space

This is kind of misleading. By this point in the process I had already removed quite a few books to make room. But this does show you the general chaos that existed before and during.

I’ve run out of room in my library and I’ve run out of ways to weed my books. You might suggest, as John did, that we could get some shelves in another room. That could be a perfect solution if it weren’t for two things: 1) John’s idea of another room is a basement bedroom. It’s a perfectly pleasant room with no moisture issues, but I’m not going to spend time in it. But, even if I could convince him to put shelves in some other room–and I’m pretty sure I could–there’s this: 2) The thing taking space away from fitting all the fiction I’ve been buying is a collection of non-fiction books that I don’t really read, but I like to see them on the shelves, I like to occasionally dip into them, and I like to think of them as part of a little mini-reference library.

I don’t have to tell any of you how important a reference library is. My particular collection is not very broad and it is by no means deep enough on any topic to be of serious use. But it does give me delight. I mainly have books on books, collections of letters, bios and memoirs of novelists, oldish books on UK topics and a very small amount of history. When my shelf by shelf feature gets there (soon) you can see the range of things that I have. Some of these things are esoteric like an illustrated guide to military aircraft from WWII. I’m not a military aircraft buff by any means, but the illustrations are nice and I read tons of fiction from that era and I like having a visual frame of reference. I also have a 1950s atlas of London that is like an A to Z but nicer and, once again, a lot of my characters lived in 1950s London. So, how can I take these kinds of books, and put them in some other room? They need to be visible on a regular basis. And don’t even think of telling me to put some of my fiction in another room.

Speaking of fiction, I have done a ton of weeding. I’m starting to get to the point that I only keep stuff I know I want to re-read. Having done a fair amount of re-reading in recent years, I’ve discovered I quite like it, so this is not a meaningless criterion. Of course the TBR pile seems to grow exponentially and has been starting to pile up on the floor and my nightstand. I wish I had counted or taken a picture of all the newish (to me) unread books that weren’t on the shelves. It was pretty daunting, and fun. I realized I couldn’t get rid of any more books but I needed to do something. So I made a pile of all the non-fiction that I was less likely to consult as a reference book, and I took the work of two fiction authors off my shelves and put them in a holding place on some shelves in the basement. I don’t think I will get rid of them, but maybe if they sit down there long enough I will realize I really don’t want them. The result was that I was able to make enough room to fit everything on the shelves in the library.

Some of the books in their temporary stacks in the basement. Not sure what their ultimate fate will be. And yes, there are three shelves that were already full of books. Mainly John’s books, my old urban planning books, and travel books.


I kept most of the novelist memoirs and collections of letters in the library but most bios ended up down here. Yes, I have two biographies of Fanny Trollope. Don’t you? How am I to know which one is going to be better? It doesn’t matter that I’ve only read one novel by Fanny.  And despite the three volumes on Anthony Trollope here, I still have an illustrated one in the library. Not to mention a copy of his autobiography.

For now, I am happy with the result. It is nice to have everything off the floor. The books also shifted enough that new book vignettes were created on the shelves as new books were added and everything was given a bit of breathing room. I might need to stop buying books for a while. Like none of us have said that before.

All tidy. Kind of clears my mind and puts me into the mood to read. I could imagine taking all of those pretty grey Persephones and putting them in a guest bedroom. That would free up more than a shelf.

12 thoughts on “The angst of finite space

  1. Simon T April 6, 2017 / 6:05 am

    Love these sorts of posts so much (albeit with the caveat that I would immediately put bookshelves on every wall of your house – but one must compromise, I realise!)


  2. Joan Kyler April 6, 2017 / 9:29 am

    I think your library is lovely, very inviting. I was reading your post and laughing at all the similarities of book people. I read parts of it to my husband and showed him the before and after photos of your library. His comment was ‘You book people are sick!’


  3. alexankarr1 April 6, 2017 / 9:46 am

    Thanks! I feel better about my own petit bijou book collection now, which will no longer be classed as ‘too many’ but ‘extremely moderate’. No matter what my other half says.


  4. Denise Costello April 6, 2017 / 10:48 am

    Such an awesome library, Thomas. I have thoroughly enjoyed your shelf-by-shelf posts. Even in my minimalist pursuits, there’s just some books I will never let go.


  5. Desperate Reader April 6, 2017 / 11:51 am

    It sounds like you’re halfway to making up your mind that some of the fiction will have to be re-homed. A few shelves in guest bedrooms with themed books sounds perfectly reasonable- the Persephone’s being an obvious choice to start with. My whole flat currently looks like the before picture of your library (less shelves, by the piles of books are the same) so you have all my sympathy.


  6. lizipaulk April 6, 2017 / 4:50 pm

    You’re doing a great job, if you ask me. (However, I have the same sickness – books, books, and maybe a few more.) With the NF, have you thought about getting the titles out of the library when you are ready for them (even though this may mean you rehome a few of the more common titles)? This might be anathema for you though, so it’s easy for me to say this. When all else fails, more shelves for everyone! :-)


  7. Karen K. April 8, 2017 / 12:03 pm

    First of all, I am jealous of your built-in bookshelves. When I get my forever house, it is the first thing I will be installing (if they don’t come included). I had to decide which books to leave in storage for the overseas move and it was torture — especially when I moved into a house much bigger than I expected! I still need more bookshelves here and my new library is on the third floor, up two winding staircases. I did buy a new bookshelf but it was so heavy it’s staying put in the first floor hallway with cookbooks and nonfiction. I feel your pain.

    Persephone’s would be nice in a themed guest room, as long as you trust your overnight guests with your dove-grey books!


  8. Annabel (gaskella) April 13, 2017 / 2:54 am

    It’s a lovely dilemma to have when your library is as lovely as yours. I’ve pared my own reference library down a lot, but it’s still useful, especially art and history books.


  9. Susan in TX April 17, 2017 / 1:17 pm

    The finished job is so beautiful! I feel your pain. I need to do a serious purge, but just haven’t been able to do it yet. I put myself on a buying limit plan this year (no one else will police me) of 3 books a month. If I don’t actually buy any, they rollover to the next month. The whole point of this was to read the books I already own. So what am I doing? Reading LIBRARY books! The upside is that I’m saving a significant amount of money. The downside is that I’ve decided I have a terrible case of “the grass is greener” syndrome. Or, as my kids would say, FOMO. Whatever. I’m enjoying my reading.
    I agree with Desperate Reader…I’d spread some out in the bedrooms by theme, but then I’ve already admitted that I have problems purging my own collection.
    Happy reading!


  10. Jeane April 17, 2017 / 1:48 pm

    You have a very nice looking library. Mine is not nearly so tidy in the end!


  11. Deborah Pesa April 18, 2017 / 1:23 pm

    just going to say I’m jealous-I think my whole apartment could fit in your library. I was forced to do a massive rearranging and a subsequent cull four years ago when I acquired a dog. He eats books. Well he did, he’s much better now, but I had to quickly get the piles up off the floor and doors put on my lower bookshelves. He was particularly fond of library books, for some reason. I had to pay $60 to my local library after a snack.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.