We Need to Talk About Bookshelves

by Jessi Probus

We all swoon over bookshelf porn and lust after Greenwich Village lofts with built-in libraries, but actually figuring out how to store a large collection of books in a budget-friendly but still moderately attractive way is hard. Especially when you have an outrageous number of books. Especially in a small apartment. Especially when you have furniture commitment issues.

Maybe you should get a Kindle/Nook, you say? To which I respond first a hasty and instinctive HELL NO, then a thoughtful, “But I could never afford to buy digital replacements for all the books I already own at ~$9.99 each, and many of my treasured volumes aren’t available in eBook form anyway, but also, just: hell no.” (*Personal preference, only. Any reading on any electronic device or cereal box or sign post or ass tattoo is for the better. Namaste.)

Maybe you should stop hoarding books, choose your favorites and donate the rest to the The People’s Library or some other cause, you say? To which I would respond: You’re probably right but I’m allergic to cats so they’re not in danger of being crushed and I already do that sometimes and still have a lot, and as long I can still walk through my room and consistently spend less on alcohol than books, I feel like I’m at a healthy balance which is in no way logical, but lay off. I like books. And I read them all. Usually more than once.

The real problem, for me, in addition to excuse-making, is legitimate book storage. Ikea is one thing, but most of the shelves that would fully contain all my tomes and talismans are much too big for my space (lookin’ at you, EXPEDIT). Real grown-up-non-particle-board bookshelves are a reasonably big financial commitment. First, there’s the actual cost and then the opportunity cost. Imagine how many used books you could buy for $250! [Answer: 50] Imagine how many readings you could go to where you bought the book, then went out for drinks with your friends to discuss the book’s waxing or waning influence on contemporary literary culture! [Answer: 7] Imagine how many first editions of Mrs. Dalloway you could buy! [Answer: 7/20ths of 1]

As someone who just moved between states, thinking about having a piece of furniture — bookshelf or otherwise — to which I am financially or emotionally committed and having to move said furniture every time I change apartments or decide to take a low-paying internship in Saskatchewan or just want to try living in the desert for a spell, is a true nightmare. The cheapest way to move a large amount of furniture is to rent a car or van and drive it yourself, and even that ends up costing hundreds in gas in a significant geographic move. And read the Yelp! Reviews before you move anything valuable in those storage pods, which start at around a thousand bucks for a multi-state trek. The books, on the other hand, can be shipped to your new address via USPS media mail for mere pence.

Maybe it’s partially because I am a Gemini and get emotionally claustrophobic when I have to commit to a username and password, but buying real furniture is something I am not mentally or financially ready to do. Until then, I will continue scouring craigslist for bedbug-free wood, stacking books on the floor and hoping nothing Jengas.

Jessi Probus is a writer and reader living in Bushwick, BK.

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