Bookcases, A Love Story

My entire adult life, I’ve hoarded books. When Di and I were looking to buy our first starter house way back in our 20s, one house that we toured felt wrong, and off. There was something bizarre and strange about it, and we couldn’t figure out what the problem was. It wasn’t until a day or so later that we realized – there wasn’t a single book in the entire house when we toured it. Without books, a house is not a home.

In the past week, I’ve come to realize my love of hoarding books may have something to do with my grandmother. When I was a child, I remember her reading incessantly. At least 1 new book every week. There was a room in her house devoted to her books, which covered 2 entire walls in what I assume were custom built floor-to-ceiling shelves. I wish I had photos of that room. I remember it being a mystical place. No matter how tumultuous the rest of the house was with stampeding people, when you entered that room, all was still and reverent.

I don’t read nearly to the extent that she did, though I try. But I do keep as many of the books I read as I can. We have a set of 3 large IKEA Billy bookshelves that have now followed us through 1 apartment and 3 houses, and we’ve added more along the way.

One of the things I’ve been up to over the past 6 months is trying to find the best way to deal with my sci-fi collection inheritance. I may have mentioned here in the past, but a little over a year ago, a friend of my father’s passed away, and his large collection of hardcovers and paperbacks very generously came to me. The first shipment to arrive (overflowing several rubbermaid tubs and piled so high in the back seat of Dad’s rental car he could barely use his mirrors), included over 300 hardcovers and at least 2 bins of paperbacks. 2 more shipments have followed, though neither as big as the first, and Dad says there’s another 400-500 books still to come. Even for me, this is an insane quantity of books. I am rubbing my hands in mad glee at the thought!

An Obscene Pile o' Books

Oh how foolish I was to sort them first!

But how to store them!

In the new house, there is a finished loft above the garage with a long wall. Ideal for bookshelves, no? No. The wall is only vertical for 60 inches, and then slopes inward! Alas, our tall IKEA bookshelves are 72″ high, and most shorter ones reach only 36″ or 48″ – far too low to house even a dent in my collection! I did the best I could, but with barely ¼ of the books out of boxes, I was out of shelf space!

What to do? Plan!

Thinking about it like the engineer I was trained to be, I began calculating. Mass market paperbacks are typically this high, the majority of hardcovers are that high, including clearance and thickness for shelving and a kickplate, I’d require units yea high. And given average book thickness times quantity of books, I would need roughly 100 ft of shelf-space, and so on. An ideal solution would be a series of 60″ high bookshelves, with 5 shelves each. These are not all that hard to come by. I managed to find 60″ units with 4 shelves. I could always buy extra shelves, right? But every time I found one I thought would work, I discovered to my dismay that they had a fixed central shelf – at exactly the wrong height! Time and again, I thought I had found the perfect bookcase for my library, only to be thwarted by a in immovable central shelf. I almost gave up.

I had resigned myself to having to custom build them. Of course, hiring someone for a job like that was far beyond the price point I was willing to spend. Which left me to do it myself. I planned out the job, deciding what kind of wood, how much I would need, what size to cut the pieces, and so on. I had done some minor carpentry in the past, helping Dad build sheds, additions, etc. I knew how to do it. But without the proper tools or the free time, it would be a job that crawled along the background of my life, filling my garage with half-cut wood and rented tools. I have a brother-in-law who’s an accomplished woodworker, among many other talents. I could ask him for help, but he lives across the country and was busy with a family of his own. I was daunted, but determined.

It’s time like these that it behooves you to listen to your wife. In my case, Di mentioned checking out library supply stores for alternatives.

And there I found, among many wonderful options, this beauty:

The SAFCO WorkSpace Square Edge Bookcase.  She’s a beaut.  And I hear she made the Kessel Run in under 28 predrilled peg-holes.

Perfect, but pricey. Not sold in any store, had to be bought sight unseen online. I wasn’t willing to drop the money on getting 6 of them unseen, especially including shipping and delivery fees. So, I got 1 as a test case. Here it is below, next to a poor cousin in a 3-shelf IKEA Billy.


It’s not my fault being the biggest and the strongest.  I don’t even exercise.

It was perfect. Perfect! The only problem was the depth. There weren’t options for shallower units, and my paperbacks were drowning in this one.


Shhhh!  We’re hiding!


Car seat?  Pfft!  Take out the 2nd and 3rd rows!  There’s books at stake!

So I went ahead and got 5 more.   And after 2 weeks of missed connections and misunderstandings with the vendor, they finally arrived the last business day before Christmas!

That’s when Di came up with a perfect solution for the depth issue. Rather than the series of looooong wooden bookends to sit behind them I had planned out, which would have cost me 4 sheets of 4×8 plywood and the rental of a tablesaw (plus, possibly, fingers), I took the cardboard boxes they were shipped in, and made braces instead.

Lots and Lots of Braces (this is about half of them)


No moles were whacked in the production of this blog post.

And so, here we stand. With a gorgeous new library wall. This is my own personal collection of sci-fi, plus what was Di’s before we married, plus the inheritance. I just hope it’s enough shelf space for the rest of the collection still to come. (Alphabetized by author, some duplicates. Anthologies and Best Of collections filed after Z)

Now that I’ve got them all displayed so prettily, it’s all I can do not to go squirrel myself away reading them all.  In fact….

Here I Go.




We still have the far-traveled and long-suffering Billys, now relegated to non-fiction and mostly non-genre fiction. And…. each of the kidlets has overflowing bookcases in their own rooms as well (data not shown).


About Matthew Shean

Matthew Shean is the author of several forthcoming novels and myriad short stories. He received his Ph.D. from the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences in New York, NY, and spent 20 years as a research scientist throughout the northeastern United States. He now lives in Long Island (against his will), with his loving family and disdainful cats.
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