Friday, January 21, 2011

In with the New

For a long time—the last three years—we had only one real bookcase in our apartment. (A bedside table holds my textbooks and a regular rotation of novels I’m hoping to read next.) This is irregular among editorial assistants, as you might expect: we tend to accumulate a lot of books. (So foreign is it to publishing friends, in fact, that upon entering our apartment a guest once asked, “Where are the rest of your books?”)

But when I moved to New York, I had to fit everything I wanted to bring with me in the trunk and backseat of an economy-sized car. My shoe collection was radically downsized. My various college furniture—microwave, mini-fridge, radio—stayed in California. And only the ten books I cared for most came with me. Moby-Dick. Two beloved Austen novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. The books on which I wrote my senior thesis: A Confederacy of Dunces, The Moviegoer, Edisto.

Luckily, one of the first items of furniture we bought in New York was our bookcase. And actually, that was the second bookcase we’d found on Craigslist, and the second that we’d picked up. The difference? This one we paid for, and, more importantly, this one we moved in a car. We’d been less clever with the first, free bookcase, which we thought we’d be able to carry together for thirty-five mostly uphill blocks. We left it on the street no more than a block away from the apartment where we picked it up, and felt terrible about it.

This new bookcase was a monster, though, so even though we had a car, it hung precariously out of the trunk while I clung to it in the backseat. We drove very, very slowly down Broadway, passed by every other car as we cruised along at ten miles an hour.

The bookcase has served us well, but it’s always been a vaguely threatening, somewhat homely presence in our apartment. Gaps show between the shelves and the frame of the bookcase. It’s slightly lopsided. It’s clearly handmade, and wouldn’t match any other bookcase. And, worrying me most of all, we store an enormous, elaborate pot on top of the case. With something this roughhewn and precarious-looking, my constant fear is that it will just collapse one day, leaving the shattered pot amidst the mismatched boards.

The fact is, though, that my initial collection of ten books has grown rapidly since I moved to New York. This bookcase filled quickly, and since then I’ve had to store the extra books I acquire in trades and various book piles in boxes under my desk. It takes up valuable space, and more importantly, it makes these lovely books harder to access. I tried to keep a list of which books were in which box, but it got hopelessly confused at a certain point.

So two weekends ago, when we went through a burst of home improvement enthusiasm, we bought a new bookcase. It’s Ikea, once-removed through Craigslist. This means a) that it was cheap and b) it’s absolutely the wrong color for our living room. It is black, which doesn’t really work with the various other light wood furniture in the room. So we decided to paint it. White. This led to a slight nervous breakdown last weekend, when I realized that the second can of paint I’d bought was a slightly different color than the first (although the label was the same, I swear!) and the freshly painted bookcase sported a distinctly mismatched look.

But the bookcase is finally starting to come together—it just needs one more coat of paint, and then we’ll actually build the thing. So I’ve started to bring books home, box after box. On Wednesday night, I lugged the first (cookbooks!) onto the train. The box was small, but heavy. The train was full. An elderly lady took the only seat left—until her husband gestured to me, and she stood.

“No, no!” I said. I stepped away.

“Yes,” she said.

“That box looks heavy,” said her husband.

Well, I took the seat. And I could swear everyone was looking at me with the disdain I myself felt—I couldn’t believe I’d just deprived an older woman of her seat (and even more, that the young man next to me didn’t offer his).

I think there are about twenty boxes left to go. That’s a lot of guilty train rides to endure.

Ultimately, though, it’s exciting to be opening these boxes and discovering books I didn’t remember owning, and to anticipate arranging them on the shelves of the new bookcase. I’ve culled a few, leaving them in my building’s lobby for others to pick up, and it makes me genuinely happy to see them gone the next morning—to know that they’ve found new owners. The old bookcase will be moved to our bedroom, alongside the bedside table, and the books languishing beneath my desk will come home at last.

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