The Library Project

Here begins The Library Project, the backbreaking saga of How I Put My Books Where I Could Find Them. 

26 March 2002: The easiest way to organize a library is to move house. As you unpack boxes in your new home, you put each book with others just like it. That is the theory, which I imagine has only rarely been put into practice, and then only at the Morgan level. In the event that you cannot move, then you buy a new bookshelf, or, as I have just done, you have a bookshelf made to order. And as long as you're having it built to order, why not tart it up? I'll tell you why not, later, if you still need to have it spelled out for you. 

On Thursday, 21 March, two carpenters from the Little Wolf Cabinet Shop, a local establishment, arrived with six bulky components. My cousin, Tim Waligore, and I had just finished clearing the living room of all the furniture that couldn't be pushed to one side. The first piece to come through the doorway did not look much like a bookshelf. It looked like a fake fireplace, a fake fireplace with sliding doors where the hearth ought to be. One fine day, a snazzy plasma display would be mounted behind those doors. Right away, though, the generous mantelpiece would lend a gracious air to a very undistinguished room.

You will note that the wood has not been finished. As a rule, the Little Wolf Cabinet Shop leaves finishing up to the consumer, who in most cases is working with an architect or contractor. Eventually, when it's time to repaint the entire room, I'll hire a painter to do the job. My current plan is to paint the mantelpiece a glossy off-white, the color of choice wherever gracious airs are sought. As for the sliding doors, it would probably be best to paint them the same color as the mantelpiece, but by the time I get around to hiring a painter, I may have succumbed to cleverer impulses, such as faux marble (which would require a specialist painter). A good friend of ours, Marty Miller, almost persuaded me that we ought to rig up a sort of real-life replica of that Magritte painting with the locomotive steaming out of the fireplace. But the sliding doors would would make this hard to mount, and the room is really not large enough to accommodate such pleasantries. We'll see.

Here we see the carpenters working on the module that will house the right-hand speaker of the living-room stereo. It was perhaps unwise to have these modules built to house twelve year-old Klipsch speakers, but then there are plenty of excellent, slightly smaller speakers, or at least I hope there will be when the time comes to replace mine.

The left-hand speaker module has already been fitted into place, its base and kick plate shaved to level and a length of speaker wire slipped through an unnervingly small hole - that wire had better hold up! The right-hand module required a lot more work, because in addition to the levelling, the workers had to cut out holes that would give me access to a pair of electric sockets and a telephone jack. I'm not sure what good this access will do me, since I don't think I'll be able to run any new lines to either. But we'll see, right? The fireplace module, in its turn, has been supplied with a power strip and a length of coaxial cable. I won't need them for some time, budgets being budgets.  

This, minus a nice bit of cornice on top, and a  bookshelf mirroring the one at the near left, is it. This is it? This is my new bookshelf, designed - so I thought - to house the books piled up next to the floor in the other room? To house those books, that is, and the ones that were in the old bookcase that this fancy-schmancy fake fireplace unit replaced? But I had already weathered the shock stage long before I snapped this picture. I had seen the unit, in one piece, at the cabinetmaker's. I had known then, mortally, that my very elementary, sub-CAD design had misled the designer who drew up the plans according to which lumber was measured twice and cut once. As always, I had wanted Everything. In this case, Everything included a handsome mantelpiece and a breakfront bookcase. I got both, really, except that the center block of shelving, the part over the mantelpiece, was supposed to break forward, so that I could stack two rows of books on each shelf. That would have either cut seriously into the mantelpiece top or pushed the whole unit farther out into the living room, beyond my carefully calculated twenty inches. Instead, of course, the designer did the sensible, handsome thing, and broke the central block backward - hard to tell in this picture, but you'll see what I mean in a minute. My consolation? Knowing, as I do from decades of frustration, that no bookshelf is ever large enough. None.

            Order restored.

The snaps to the right and left are barely hours old. I took a few intermediate shots, but I got rid of them because the candles weren't lighted. No, the real reason is this: they showed how much - how little - empty shelving there was after I put up all the books that had been in the old bookcase, which, by the way, I'm sorry I didn't take a picture of. It was a plain but foursquare, simple but sturdy six-footer, constructed by one of the entry-level bookshelf retailers, that a former associate of Kathleen's, long since returned to her native Boston, gave to us on condition that we pay to have it moved across town ($60). Olivia's bookshelf served us very well for nearly twenty years, spending about half that time at our house on Candlewood Lake and two years on the balcony here in New York. When Kathleen decided that she couldn't stand to look at it out the bedroom window any longer, and had it replaced with a hutch (from another entry-level supplier), I was about to drag it down the hall to the service elevator for recycling, but I needed the shelf space too badly, so it spent a final nine months in our living room, where it looked as out of place as what you see in these pictures, but in the other direction.

When I think what this hulk would have held if the fireplace were shelving!


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