As mentioned here and elsewhere, I recently received a boon from my wife. She finally allowed me to devote some space to bookshelves. Our quarters are a bit cramped (more due to layout than lack of space) and Karen (that’s the wife) has been reluctant to display my oh-so economical choice of steel shelving to her and the public’s eye. I can understand that and have sympathy for it, but my desire to display my books – my need to display my books – trumps aesthetics. (It’s a legitimate need: I often want to refer to a text, compare stories, check editions, an impossible chore when the books are in boxes, or in closets that are in turn concealed behind other furniture.) My ability to cite has been seriously curtailed for the past several years. Besides, those books are my friends and they’ve told me on any number of occasions that they do not like the stuffy darkness one finds inside of cardboard boxes.
I’m an inveterate collector, I am. I can’t walk past a used bookstore. I can’t not stop at a yard sale displaying books. I regularly visit library sales, spend much of my time at conventions in the dealer’s room, waste time in the Antiquarian and Back Issues sections of Ebay and get dusty and sneezy in antique shops. I love getting in review copies (especially ARCs) and especially love it when a new book arrives via the author themselves. I’m convinced that one day I will come across a sky-high pile of pulp magazines, all for a dime (and all in pristine condition of course) tucked away in some barn, hauled to the curb after a garage sale, waiting to be rescued by someone who cares.
I have lists of titles I need in order to fill in an author’s section of the library, titles that have worn (or, sadly, have experienced other damage while in my care; an unnoticed roof leak in a Florida residence mildewed half the books on one shelf; a magazine purchased in California introduced a bookworm plague; the bookworm battle was a legendary epic of numbers and fecundity countered with intelligence and technology – a true science fictions story if ever there was one) that need replacement; I have lists online (Good Reads; Amazon), and in my head. I even put together a whole website just to keep track of the volume 1, number 1 pulps I own or still need to collect. (Fun to look at but out of date so far as the collection is concerned.)
I lust after certain titles that exceed my economic grasp and I’m respectfully jealous of others whose collections are better than my own (note to those collectors: if you’re looking for a future home….)
Of course they are all physical books. You can’t “collect” Ebooks. You can store Ebooks and you can certainly read them, but you can’t get as intimate with them as you can the physical copies. You can’t smell Ebooks and it is difficult, if not impossible, to attach a personal history to an Ebook. Go and pull a book from one of my shelves and I’ll tell you all about its origins – the time, the place, the reason for purchasing it, the edition, the cover artist (and of course the story). “I downloaded it from Amazon” just does not have the same panache as “I was traveling through Texas and came across this little hole-in-the-wall used bookstore. The proprietors were an elderly husband and wife team who must have set up shop during the waning days of the cowboys…”)
And of course with physical books goes the inevitable storage problem. For some reason I’ve just never been able to justify purchasing good, expensive bookcases. I look at the price and then immediately think of how many more books I can purchase with for same amount of money. Over the years I’ve had custom shelves built (while still living in my parent’s home my father built me a set mounted to the wall: 7 shelves, each 14 feet long. They were immediately packed and over-flowing and one night, around 3 AM, the top shelf gave way with a resounding crack!. In a cascade not unlike a modern building pancaking during an earthquake, each shelf shattered under the impact from the one above, collapsing to the floor domino fashion. The pile of books was so huge I couldn’t get out of the room.) While away at college I constructed the typical milk crate and board shelves (later cinder block and boards) to hold not my class texts but the few hundred books I considered a must-have. During move after move (I’ve moved a lot over the years) one of the first priorities was always “where are the books going to go?”; I’ve had attic storage and finished-basement storage, built-in shelves and, ultimately, the steel storage shelves.
For a number of years I rented a house right by the shore in Florida. It was originally a vacation home, comprised of a den, an enclosed porch, a kitchen and four 15×12 bedrooms. Being single at the time I was able to use all of the rooms for whatever I wanted and it didn’t take long to set up THE LIBRARY. I had nine five-shelf units, each 54 inches wide. They were arranged in three three-unit stacks with a snaking path through the room. They were almost enough to display everything I had (using both sides of each shelf); reluctantly the non-SF and military history texts remained in boxes.
But it was heaven for a while. Think of a book and in less than a minute, if I owned it I could have it in my hands. At a glance I could tell how prevalent a particular author was, their ages and eras (especially for paperbacks: original Ace Doubles are shorter than standard paperbacks, which are in turn shorter than the “modern” variety – which is a pain in the butt if you want to shelve a long-standing author’s works all together and also want the shelves to have as minimal headroom as is possible). If all I wanted to do was reminisce, I could spend hours pulling books, chasing down whatever idea or theory had taken my fancy. (Not to mention the heady experience of simply walking slowly through the room, rubbing my hands together and mumbling “mine, mine, aaaalllll mine!”.)
Then I got married and aesthetics – somehow – came to have a level of importance in my life that it had never risen to before. And somehow, books displayed on battleship gray steel shelving just didn’t seem to fit with any of the other interior decor. We had porcelain products that fit in, antique furniture that fit in (even a commode!), various paintings that worked, displays of nick-nacks. My stuff? The books and the board games and the miniature armored vehicles, the spaceships and model kits, the framed magazine covers – nope.
Now, almost a decade gone by, I have my shelves back. It’s only three units this time, so I’ve had to resort to the (nearly unacceptable) practice of stacking (which of course meant that I had to very carefully record which author was in what stack on which shelf and print up a map so I can find what I might be looking for) but it’s better than boxes.
I’ve stolen a bit of time here and there over the past couple of weeks and recently completed the re-staking of the paperback section of the library (I still have trade, hardback, over-sized and magazines to get through). As already mentioned, I had to create an index of the shelving scheme (not by title, only by author – so far) which gave me the idea to share the list of authors on that list here.
I thought it might be somewhat instructive to see who and what I’ve been collecting over the years; I’ve kept every single science fiction, fantasy and horror book I’ve ever purchased (even managing to recover a few that I mistakenly traded when I was very young and impulsive) over nearly half a century now. The collection is equal parts things I wanted to read, things I ought to have read, books that are important milestones in the history of the genre and books that were just plain fun. Or old and collectible. Or cheap. Or….
So here’s the list. Maybe you’ll find a name you’ll want to check out, maybe you’ll find a name that’s absent and ought to be here (though do remember that this is only the paperback holdings). Regardless, you’ve got a glimpse into the mind of a far-gone SF collector…one who is still looking for more books and the shelves to put them on.
AUTHORS IN PAPERBACK COLLECTION (note, names are for both authors and editors and, for multi-authored/edited books, only the first name was recorded)
(Editors of) If
(Editors of) Playboy
(Editors of) Saturday Evening Post
(note to Steve: if you’re looking for a future home….)
Now I don’t feel so bad having some (maybe 20%) of my books in boxes. I was able to buy bookcases from a bookstore that went out of business and have most of them set up in my library (I need a bigger room). All SF/F books are cataloged on my computer, useful for collecting and insurance purposes (I also started tracking books I loan out after I got tired of losing so many to people who never returned them). One negative of having most of the books on shelves is that they collect dust, so I am thinking about getting a sealed display case for some of the rarer volumes.