05 March 2008

Horizontal friends

Over the weekend in Barcelona, our principle task was to help the Mister's father insert made-to-measure bookshelves on our office wall. My personal contribution was of a less practical nature, however, because once I had moved all the piles of books into the hallway, I got lost in an organizational reverie, dreaming of how we will arrange them on the shelves (mostly his, since the majority of mine still reside in my parents' basement or in Brussels).

Should we separate the English books from the Spanish and Catalan books? Definitely not in the case of his history, political science, and philosophy texts, but perhaps in the case of novels and poetry? Should we organize the history and politics books by region or by time period? Should we go with the dewey decimal system? Such were my thoughts while the men hoisted heavy wooden slabs up to the ceiling. Poor division of labor, I know, but they really only needed two people...

The shelves still need to be stained or painted (another decorating dilemma that we must decide on shortly: any opinions? the photo I included here from Domino is a good idea of what the shelves will look like, over a narrower door and another case or two wide), but meanwhile I am looking forward to having a proper office, and a wall of books to gaze upon. I tend to think of my bookshelf as an extension of my inner self, which is why for years I carted books I was unlikely to need with me to college, to England, to Austria, to Spain. Even a little stretch of Rilke, Rukeyser, and Milosz at my side made me feel much more at home.

Which brings me to a philosophical difference between the Mister and I. He will buy a book even when he knows he is unlikely to ever read it, as long as it is interesting or useful or related to his field(s). I am becoming more like this, especially with my academic purchases, but my ideal has been to have read every word of every book on my shelf. The unread books stand out like sore thumbs when I look them, their forlorn spines cry out, saying "Read Me!" As I said, this ideal has become more and more unattainable, but is one that I still cling to. I suppose the rate of book purchases will always exceed the rate of reading, resulting in a library with unread books. And now that M. and I have merged libraries, the unread far outnumber the read. (Although here in Brussels, for instance, his books occupy one shelf and mine another, in part because mine are mostly literature and literary theory, and his are mostly history and political theory.)

Still, the excitement of an empty, newly painted bookshelf remains. A whole wall to fill with orderly horizontal friends, perhaps a few other lovely objects strewn among them.


WilliamLRukeyser said...

It's good to know that Rukeyser poems make you feel more at home there. You may already know that Barcelona was one of my mother's favorite cities... even though she saw it first at a tragic time: the first days of the Civil War.
Bill Rukeyser

Robin said...

Dear Bill,

Thanks for responding to my post! Actually, your mother's poem about leaving Barcelona when the war broke out, "Mediterranean," is a key text for my doctoral thesis, since I'm writing about international Spanish Civil War poetry. I've always loved her work, and this piece in particular fits so well with my dissertation.

I'd be tremendously interested if you have any additional insight into that poem or your mother's perspectives on Spain/the civil war. My email address, at gmail, is cantdocell.

Again, thanks for writing, and I'd love to hear more!

Casey said...

Dear Robin,

I sympathize totally with your bookshelf behavior: I get a guilty pang when I look at the great books on my shelf I have yet to read, all of which I bought because they were English Books At Amazing Prices, something you don't see every day in Berlin.

Thanks for your comment on my blog today. I don't know how you found me, but it's always great to hear from another catalanòfil. Cheers!