This writing business sure requires a lot of books.
As I entered my office a few days ago, I had to wade through books filed in boxes, books in paper shopping bags, books stacked on the floor. My office is small, and I could barely find a pathway from the door to my desk.
I am surrounded by books that I need to read because they have something in common with the novel I’m trying to write: a similar structure, perhaps, or a similar narrative approach or a common historical setting. In my growing collection are nonfiction books about World War I, Prohibition, racial violence, the steel industry, coal camps in Eastern Kentucky, and Lexington’s most notorious madam. There are historical photo collections from the various cities where my maternal grandfather spent some period of his life. There are books on the craft of writing that I continue to hope will inspire me to write something worth reading.
I have written before about my passion for collecting books. Evidently it’s unslakable. I am proud that I still value books, particularly in light of recent reporting that “The share of Americans who read for pleasure on a given day has fallen by more than 30 percent since 2004.” I described last week how reading can increase empathy, a quality we all need to embrace in these times. But despite my plea for everyone to read more, my friends know how I struggle to find the time to read all that I want. Nonetheless, I never question that reading is time well spent. And I recognize the luxury of being surrounded by books I love.
But recently the sheer number of volumes has multiplied, due in part to the overwhelming generosity of a friend and mentor and in part to the consolidation of references my chief researcher had acquired over the past several years.
Something had to give.
So this weekend, my husband—the hunter-gatherer of the family—found a $50 bookcase to help me get my office back into some sort of order. With any luck, my thinking will become a bit clearer as the room becomes more uncluttered.
In doing research for the novel, I discovered that my predilection for books may go back several generations. At the beginning of the twentieth century, my maternal great-grandmother ran into some trouble keeping up her accounts with local shop owners. In May 1908, as many businesses were still recovering from the Panic of 1907, J.T. Hinton—the proprietor of a Paris, Ky., home furnishings store as well as a funeral director and the future mayor of the city—filed a suit against Mrs. W. E. Board for payment of a past due account amounting to $131.69. The purchases on the tab went back to 1902, and by far the most expensive item on the account was a $35 bookcase (the third item listed in the exhibit filed with the suit, left).
Maybe it’s a genetic compulsion. I can only hope that I find more time to enjoy the “writing” library I have amassed—a library that is now neatly arranged on shelves rather than scattered among various trip hazards on the floor. Perhaps eye-level reminders will be all I need to start a marathon summer reading spree.