Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Visit to a Book Addict’s House

Last week I visited the home of a friend who I met through the homeschooling community about three years ago. We have had many discussions about books and using living books in our homeschooling journeys. We have seen each other face to face, had long phone calls and many back and forth email dialogues. But I had never been to her home until last week. What a fun thing it was! I only wish I had more time to spend with the books (we were too busy enjoying each other’s company).

What a sight it was to behold all of those books. I was in awe and could have spent a day there looking over the shelves, reading each book title and taking the time to flip through the ones that I’d never seen or heard of before to figure out if it was undiscovered treasure that I simply must have.

My husband was with me and it was a wonderful thing for him to see. Finally he got to see books everywhere. Now my husband knows it is not just me who lives that way.

Two living room walls were covered in bookshelves. The room was not huge so the couches were backed up right to them, covering up their bottom halves. However, the couches easily slid on the hardwood floors and in just seconds we were able to stand behind the couches to reach the (more important) books.

A room on the first floor was an office with a computer, but the room really was more like a library. The four walls were covered in bookshelves, which were labeled with P-Touch labels to explain the contents of the shelves. My favorite part was that books covered the floor, stacked up on top of each other, some stacks two feet high. Piles of books were everywhere and I had to carefully seek open spots to place my feet so that I could go into the center of the room. My friend explained and apologized that she was in the middle of a book sort and rearrangement, bring up titles to be used this year from the basement storage to rotate onto the shelves in that room. (Aren’t we book-addicted homeschoolers always in the process of book organizing?) There were two big easy chairs, and I did laugh when I saw that the seat of one was fully stacked with books.

I will also share that the two desk surfaces were completely clean. My husband remarked at the beauty of it and criticized me for not having the same thing at my own desk (Hey, right now there is a one inch neat stack of papers in front of my computer and a couple of books, and lots of little toys that the boys have left here. Anyway my friend came to my defense and said that she cleaned the desk top off right before we came for our benefit, but that now she realized she should not have done it, as my husband was then mislead that it was typical for her. I then felt better about it!

Did I also mention that many shelves were double stacked or at least had small piles of books on them? It is SO hard to resist open shelf space!

My friend’s bedroom had about six tall bookshelves lining part of two walls. (I wish I could do that buy my husband won’t allow it!)

I didn’t see the basement which her husband described as being full of boxes of books.

There were some stacks of books on the staircase leading upstairs. A plastic bin of DVDs from The Teaching Company was on the landing. I was told there were 33 in total, do the math on that one, yikes!

When the children were looking for something to do, I glanced around and saw a lot of board games. In the living room was a stack of board games which was nearly six feet high, leaning against the wall and the side of a bookcase for extra support. This confirmed that my family is not the only one that owns a lot of board games! Hooray! I recognized some as the popular educational games that we homeschoolers see in homeschool supply catalogs, and saw some other educational games that I’d never heard of. When I mentioned that my boys would love to play a game, they were directed to a large, wide armoire next to the front door. The doors were opened to reveal that it was chock full of yet more board games: games, games and more games! Hooray! I finally found someone who owns more board games than we do! And I saw that we were not the only ones with a challenge about how to store them!

I was overwhelmed by the history books which were arranged in chronological order (with labels indicating the dates). Since they filled the shelves in two rooms I assumed that all of the timeline of history was shelved there, but I was told the ancients were in storage in the basement and that by no means were all of the history books on those shelves. My friend is a lover of history, so this is a case where it is hard for her to resist buying books on the subject that is her passion. (The other kind of thing that a person often buys a ton of books about is a subject they are worried about teaching to their child and for my friend that was not the case with the history books.)

As we snacked on some cheese and crackers her husband made a comment about a two foot high stack of books and magazines on the corner of the kitchen counter and remarked, “What is that, why is that there?”. I glanced and quickly explained that it was a stack of cooking magazines and a couple of cookbooks which lay within reach for use. My friend laughed out loud and nodded in agreement and neither of us could understand why her husband couldn’t figure that out as it was so plain and obvious! My friend explained that since the kitchen with little cabinet space had no room for her collection of 500 cookbooks, that the (little) pile on the counter was necessary.

A cardboard box with the Sonlight logo on it sat by the front door and my friend showed me the contents, remarking that it was delivered just the day before and that she had not had time to really pour over the contents. (My friend custom designs her own curriculum but also uses the books from Sonlight, claiming it is less expensive to buy them from Sonlight than on big name Internet bookselling sites, which I find hard to believe, but knowing her, she had indeed done the side by side comparison, so it must be true!)

I should also state for my readers that she uses the classical method of homeschooling, with "The Well Trained Mind" by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer as one of her main references (although she owns probably every book on classical education and classical homeschooling that is in publication).

It was so fun to see all the books in a house and to see that indeed they are being used. I also was reassured that when owning so many books, when they roll in from library sales or recent Amazon orders, that although a system of organization is in place, there are always books stacked up and waiting to be properly filed away. I see the problem is universal: many of we bookworms don’t have enough shelf space.

I was thinking about how husbands seem to have a thing against bookshelves. Now with inexpensive shelves from Wal Mart and IKEA, for $30-$40 we can have a six foot high bookcase without a huge expenditure. That somehow seems like some ‘big thing’ to purchase yet our husbands would drop the same amount of money on some other purchase. The $20-$40 on the bookshelves seems like a lot of money to them, but it is not a lot of money for some other thing. I think the issue is the size, that our husbands are intimidated with the size of a large piece of furniture. They also, I suspect, in the back of their minds, think that if they restrict our ability to buy new bookshelves it will stop us from buying books. This is not true and has never been true especially for parents of children and homeschoolers as our book collections have ‘a great purpose’. The reality is what some of us have done is spend money on plastic storage bins to keep them in the closet, attic, or the basement, which can sometimes amount to a higher expenditure than the cheap shelves!

I continue to work on inputting data about the books we already own into an Excel spreadsheet. I worked at it a bit this morning and am up to 5143 books. In these last few weeks I’ve been actively getting rid of books on, having let go and mailed away at least 60 books. I have been trying to let go of books that we are finished with, I really am trying! I am pondering opening an eBay store to sell used books and curriculum that we are finished with. I have eleven boxes of books and curriculum and preschool games and hands on activities in the garage waiting to be sold or given away. I have two boxes in a closet which I am filling with books that I am ready to get rid of in one of the aforementioned ways. As I go through the house I glance at picture books and grab those which I think we are ready to say goodbye to. I am trying so hard to let go of what we own that we won’t use again!

And so the book organizing, sorting, categorizing continues! I have a feeling it never be completed, as the books move in and out of our home on nearly a daily basis. My husband will be crestfallen to think that our home will never look perfectly neat and organized as the public library does. What he may not realize is that the library staff are always working to shuffle the books from here to there and to move in the new and move the old out. The challenge to fit all that they own into the existing shelves and space is something that they struggle with (it is just that the library patrons may not be cognizant of it).

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the spouse said...

Ok, it is MY house ChristineMM is talking about here.....

First, there are only THREE bookcases in the bedroom and the stack of cooking magazines and cookbooks in the kitchen is only ONE foot high.

....everything else is pretty much accurate.

I will not pause to comment here on Ms. MM's own pernicious book-addict tendancies nor will I comment on the fact that she has some duplicates of Early American History stored behind the Cheerios. (I do not know this for a fact, however I truly suspect it).

I will point out, however, that this voyage with husband in tow to my house was a dangerous and running-with-scissors-like journey. Why? Because apart from the dangers inherent in getting down my Humvee commercial-like driveway, a feat in itself, we both risk incarceration for book addiction by our respective spouses if they ever get together and compare notes. At present the Betty Ford Clinic does not have a wing set aside for book addicts, but if our husbands spend much time sitting together and chatting they just might get the bright idea of endowing one.

Now, of course, I must offer a defense for my excess.

First, my oldest child is 4 years older than ChristineMM's oldest. This means that I have 4 years of accumulation on her, and simply own all the books, games, and other hsing paraphernalia that ChristineMM will herself own in exactly 4 years. She will not deny this. I think she is curious as to what she will own and the answers are on my shelves (ok, and stacked up on my floors, and chairs, and threatening to maim the next person who walks by the stack of games which are not so well balanced).

Second, in my defense, I do not buy expensive shoes. I have never owned a pair of Manolo Blahniks (and never will - my feet are size 10 and I don't think they make them that big but that's besides the point). I shop at Payless. There are many of you who understand this defense. Case closed.

ChristineMM, when can I come over and blog about...I mean, er, peruse for my own interest...your shelves?!

Mama Chaos said...

I think I could pack my bags and move in there. I dream someday of having a room that is nothing but books and a big comphy couch to read them from. Maybe a window seat too, but mostly wall to wall books.

Mel said...

Hello Christine. Wow what a great experience to see that you are not alone in the so-many-books thing. We don't have nearly as many books yet they have always been an important part of my life. My husband doesn't have a problem with putting in some built in bookshelves in the LR. And he just built a bunch for the schoolroom and I have one in our bedroom and one in the walk in closet. But I'm afraid he thinks that will be "enough". I'll do my best!
I also have a friend with many more books than I have and she has more space too. She is putting a library together in her basement and I know she will continue to add to it. I love to do just what you described-pulling out treasures I'm unfamiliar with and smiling at treasures I am familiar with. Thanks for sharing that.
(the blog that links with my name here is just a photo blog for my friends and family. my "real" blog is at )
I'm also a fellow yahoo bookroom mate. mostly I just read and learn.

lastpaige said...

Thank you so much for sharing this!

You're very right about inexpensive bookcases. Ours were all purchased from the 'as is' department at IKEA - we didn't pay full price for one book case, nor the doors, actually. (We live in the desert, it's very dusty, so the doors are a must.) You're welcome to take a peek at the following address.

Thank you again - loved the story and comments, and am inspired to go book shopping (it's been a few days, I'm certainly due).

Mrs L

ladyofvirtue said...

I loved your post, and your sidebar book selections, as I have also enjoyed many of the same along the way.

Not to make you jealous, but my husband actually encourages my addiction--since he is a bibliophile as well.

Our only check is the other prominent trait we both share--neat-nickness!