“Raina: Do you know what a library is?
“Man: A library? A roomful of books.
“Raina: Yes, we have one, the only one in Bulgaria.
“Man: Actually a real library! I should like to see that.”
— Arms and the Man, by George Bernard Shaw, Act I.
A few years ago, browsing around on the internet, I came across this “Bookshelf Tag”. It looked fun so I saved the idea for when my books weren’t kept in boxes here and there, on shelves in my closet two rows deep, &c. In short, for that “someday” when my books would all be out neatly on shelves and easily accessible. Well, that day has (more or less) arrived!
1. Describe your bookshelf (or wherever it is you keep your books-it doesn’t actually have to be a shelf!) and where you got it from: I’m actually describing my library, not just one particular bookcase. I have four bookcases, along with books stowed away here and there in other places. I have two open-backed pine bookcases which my mother had made for my sister and me to fit under the (very high) windows in our bedroom at the time. I ended up with both bookcases, one of which my brother modified for me so that it would fit under a different window. I also have a couple of used bookcases a friend generously gave me — one very large, heavy brown bookcase and a smaller black one. Apart from those, I have some overflow stacked on some makeshift shelves in my bedroom, a few stuffed into a cupboard, a collection on top of my dresser, a few stored in a box in my sewing area, some more stashed in a rolltop desk by the dining room, and the rest on a little green shelf by my bed where I keep the books I’m currently reading and those borrowed through the local library.
2. Do you have any special or different way of organizing your books? I organize my fiction by author in three groups — American authors, authors whose works were translated into English, and British authors. Included in these groups are occasional autobiographies, poetry, and other non-fiction by the same authors. For example, since I have C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books with my fiction, I also keep God in the Dock, Mere Christianity, et al. on the same shelf, though they are not fiction. Since my volume of Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe contains his poems and essays as well as his short stories, they are all necessarily stored on one shelf.
Separate from these are my collections: Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Märchen, Beatrix Potter, Lewis Carroll, German. Non-fiction is roughly categorized by subject, poetry is together, reference materials together, and a section of biographies and history. I have a small shelf devoted to education. Children’s books are currently stacked higgledy-piggledy, still awaiting proper shelving and organization. Sewing books and any relating to fashion or costume are in a box in my sewing area. Cookbooks are together in the rolltop desk — at least those that fit. Further organization is yet to come, as I weed out superfluous books — now that I can actually see and get at what I have! I really need to go through them. I have many books which somehow crept their way into my collection, some I don’t need or want anymore (such as some I was given way back when I graduated) and others I never even plan on reading, which should be expunged.
3. What’s the thickest (most amount of pages) book on your shelf? It used to be The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy which has 2833 pages, but I gave that to my mom so I don’t have anything so spectacularly long anymore. Now my longest book (in terms of number of pages) is The Defender’s Study Bible which has 1620 pages.
Other books I own with over fourteen hundred pages:
• Cassell’s German-English, English-German Dictionary — Deutsch-Englisches, Englisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch – 1580 pp.
• Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary – 1563 pp.
• Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary – 1532 pp.
• The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Garden City, NY: Garden City Books, 1936) – 1527 pp.
• Holy Bible (Philadelphia: The National Bible Press), used to be my grandfather’s – 1525+ pp.
• War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, illustrated by Topolski, Feliks – 1430 pp.
I was going to list all my books with over a thousand pages, but it turns out I have about thirty of them and I decided that would be tedious. And though truly, for mine own part, if I were as tedious as a king, I could find in my heart to bestow it all of your worship — yea, an ’t were a thousand pound more than ’tis — still, I’d prefer not to bestow too much of it upon myself. [See Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare, Act 3, Scene 5, if you don’t recognize that reference.] In case you are unaccountably curious, they include more reference materials, Bibles, and compilations of Shakespeare’s works, along with compilations of Jane Austen’s novels, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, poetry compilations, and The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus.
4. What’s the thinnest (least amount of pages) book on your shelf? That is hard to say without going through a selection of my books and actually counting the pages. I have an assortment of them without numbered pages, many of which are small, children’s books and so may be supposed to have relatively few pages. I also have a handful of pamphlets with fewer than 30 pages, as small as ten or eleven pages, but those don’t really count. Probably the book with the fewest pages that I have is the board book The Wild Waves Whist, which has 20 pages counting the insides of the front and back covers.
5. Is there a book you received as a birthday gift? Probably several, though I’m more likely to get them as Christmas gifts. My grandfather took me to a used book store (Sleepy Hollow Bookshop) one birthday and bought me a couple of books I picked out — a copy of Our Mutual Friend with a beautiful cover (Boston: Perry Mason & Co., 1884) and a copy of Oliver Twist illustrated with “Photographs from The Liebler Company’s Centenary production of J. Comyn Carr’s Adaptation of the Novel”. I have The Defender’s Study Bible from my parents. A lady I used to clean house for gave me a gift certificate for Barnes and Noble for my birthday once and I used it to buy a copy of Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Those are the ones I know were birthday gifts.
6. What’s the smallest (height and width wise) book on your shelf? My smallest books are my Langenscheidt’s Lilliput English-German and Deutsch-Englisch Dictionaries, measuring in at 1-5/16” wide and 1-7/8” tall. If you want to be quite particular, the Deutsch-Englisch dictionary is about 1/16” thinner than the English-German dictionary and so is officially the smallest.
7. What’s the biggest (height and width wise) book on your shelf? If we’re talking in terms of volume, I have no intention of even attempting to figure that out. However, I’ll give you the frontrunners in each of the three pertinent dimensions.
• Tallest: Monet: 25 Masterworks — 16” tall, 11-1/2” wide, between 1/4 and 3/8” thick.
• Widest: Battle of the Beasts, by Diz Wallis — 14” wide, 11” tall, 3/8” thick.
• Thickest: American Dictionary of the English Language, by Noah Webster — 3” thick, 11” tall, 8-3/4” wide.
8. Is there a book from a friend on your shelf? Probably.
9. Most expensive book? In terms of value, I have not the faintest idea. In terms of what I paid for them, I can actually ascertain that. Although the bulk of my books are either gifts (and therefore free to me) or bought from book sales (almost without exception ranging in price from 25¢ to $2), I do occasionally splurge and buy myself something more expensive. To date, the most I have spent on a book is the $34.72 I spent on my first copy of Mansfield Park — by Jane Austen, illustrated by Hugh Thomson, Macmillan’s Illustrated Standard Novels (London: Macmillan and Co., 1897), hardcover — back in 2006. That price did include shipping and handling.
10. The last book you read on your shelf? The Turmoil, by Booth Tarkington.
11. Of all the books on your shelf, which was the first you read? I have no idea. It would probably be one that I received when I was a baby. Possibly The Christian Mother Goose, Giant Treasury of Peter Rabbit, Giant Treasury of Beatrix Potter, My Jesus Book, My Book of Bible Stories, or The Velveteen Rabbit— all of which I received within the first three years of my life and all of which I remember reading as a child. However, I really could not say for certain.
12. Do you have more than one copy of a book? Emphatically, yes. I collect books. I have at least three copies of each of Jane Austen’s novels (five, if you count my two volumes of her complete novels). I have four sets of the complete works of Shakespeare (excluding the play The Two Noble Kinsman, of which I have only one copy). I have multiple copies of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I have the complete works of Beatrix Potter in one volume and am in the process of collecting individual copies of her stories. Besides these, I have the occasional novel of which I have multiple copies, usually because I can’t decide which cover or binding I like best. Or I have a copy that I love, but is in delicate condition, so I have another cheaper or hardier copy for general use.
13. Do you have the complete series of any book series? I have all of McGuffy’s Readers. I have all seven of the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. I have all of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I have Jeannie K. Fulbright’s Exploring Creation series. I’m not sure if there is a differentiation between sets and series in this question, but I also have a ten-volume set of the complete works of James Whitcomb Riley, a three-volume set of the works of George Eliot, and probably some others — irrespective of the sets of Jane Austen’s and William Shakespeare’s works I own.
14. What’s the newest addition to your shelf? The Marble Faun, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
15. What book has been on your shelf FOREVER? The Christian Mother Goose Book, Volume 1, by Marjorie Ainsborough Decker — a Christmas gift from my grandparents the year I was born.
16. What’s the most recently published book on your shelf? The Wild Waves Whist: An Ageless Story from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, words by William Shakespeare, story by Erin Nelsen Parekh, illustrations by Mehrdokht Amini, copyright 2019.
17. The oldest book on your shelf (as in, the actual copy is old)? I have Church Psalmist; or, Psalms and Hymns, published by Presbyterian Board of Publication (Philadelphia) in 1847. I also have The Life and Works of William Cowper, Complete in one Volume (London: William Tegg and Co.), which has the date 1849 in it.
18. A book you won? I did actually win a book once in a blog giveaway, but due to a glitch in my emails, I never received it. As far as I can recall, I didn’t “win” any of my books.
19. A book you’d hate to let out of your sight (aka a book you never let someone borrow)? I probably wouldn’t let anyone borrow my first copy of Mansfield Park. Soon after I graduated from high school and began spending my own money, I decided to acquire a copy of each of the novels of my favourite author — Jane Austen. I decided to find hardcover copies illustrated by Hugh Thompson. I ended up getting a copy of Mansfield Park published by Macmillan and Co. in 1897. Not only am I very fond of this copy of what became my favourite novel, it is in a somewhat fragile condition, so I would be loth to lend it, lest it fall apart. I am also very partial to the volume of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion I acquired about the same time. It was also published by Macmillan and Co., this time in 1926. It has lovely red binding, feels lovely to hold, and is also in rather delicate condition. Ditto with the copy of Our Mutual Friend my grandfather gave me for my birthday one year.
20. Most beat up book? I have a number of books that aren’t in good condition. I have some children’s books that young children obviously got to and several books that were my grandfather’s that are well past their prime. I think the mice got to one before I did. I think the most beat up is one of those, Dr. Chase’s Recipes, which is lacking any cover at all and a great many of its pages. How many I couldn’t say, since I don’t know how many it is supposed to have, but it begins with page 65 and ends at page 384.
21. Most pristine book? I have a lot of books in beautiful, like-new condition. I don’t think I have a frontrunner in this category.
22. A book from your childhood? For my second Christmas, my parents gave me a Giant Treasury of Peter Rabbit and a Giant Treasure of Beatrix Potter.
23. A book that’s not actually your book? I usually have a shelf of books obtained through my local library. I have six of them right now, including The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake, When I Was a Soldier by Valérie Zenatti, Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel, and The Tunic Bible by Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr. It is to be hoped that everything else on my shelves actually belongs to me.
24. A book with a special/different cover (e.g. leather bound, soft fuzzy cover etc.)? I have a copy of The Poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that has some kind of suede or suede-like binding with a design impressed on the front. I also have a copy of Keats’ poems with a very pretty cover.
25. A book that is your favorite color? I don’t have a favourite colour. I do have some beautifully coloured books, however.
26. Book that’s been on your shelf the longest that you STILL haven’t read? I’m not sure. Maybe Utopia or The Innocents Abroad?
27. Any signed books? Behowl the Moon: An Ageless Story from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, words by William Shakespeare, story by Erin Nelsen Parekh, art by Mehrdokht Amini, signed by William Shakespeare. Just kidding! It’s signed by Erin Nelsen Parekh.
I think another good question for this tag would have been, How many books do you have on your shelf? However, it wasn’t asked and I have no intention of telling how many books I have in my library. It is an embarrassingly high number. Suffice it to say, I have way more books than is in any way necessary. Another good question (at least in my case) would be, How many of your books have you read? I haven’t ascertained that for my entire collection, but from my fiction section, I have read approximately two out of three of the books.
“Catherine: You are a barbarian at heart still, Paul. I hope you behaved yourself before all those Russian officers.
“Petkoff: I did my best. I took care to let them know that we had a library.”
— Arms and the Man, by George Bernard Shaw, Act II.