What we needed, more than almost anything else, was bookshelves. This is what a marriage of novelists begets. We’d built them into our old house, and our idea was to build into this one, too. There was a massive 12-foot wall in the dining room, and we’re not really dining-room people, so: Turn it into a library, we thought. But our previous house was plain, unrenovated since the ’60s, the sort of place where you could almost finish redoing the hallway floor and get away with it. Knotty pine, wrong side up? Cool. Just go with it. In this house, the previous owners had redone everything — bathrooms, kitchen, plumbing, electric. This house was too nice for us. We’d have to do these bookshelves right.
Besides our old rancher, I’d done it one other time. One grad-school summer, I helped my parents blow through the wall between their den and living room and build bookshelves for that grand new space. So I knew the secret hacks: plywood boxes on a dimensional base, most sins covered by perfect finish work on the trim. Problem is, I’m not a very good finish carpenter. And was my ’20s Craftsman — even beautifully rehabbed — square and plumb? Ha. Come with me, reader, on a fool’s errand, an epic journey, a caper, a romp.
It took me all of January 2009. Every day, almost every moment. I had the trim milled to match the house. I built in speaker wire that I didn’t know I’d soon not need. I went so, so slowly. I coped the molding into the existing molding, a process so fussy that I don’t even want to explain it to you. The project took something like three gallons of paint. The sleight-of-hand almost works — most folks who come over think that the shelves are original, which makes me almost more relieved than proud. If you’re going to sneak something the size of a billboard into a house, you want the dazzle camouflage to work. They do look mostly like they belong. Just forgive me the corners up by the crown molding.
My parents helped me install the actual shelves into the cabinets during a freak ice storm that March. The unit is 12 feet by 9, with 48 shelves, and a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation says that we have better than 1,400 books in that thing. They’re alphabetized, sort of. They were at one point, anyhow. But here’s what I love: I love to get up from wherever I’m sitting, look for a book where it should be, and then spend the next 10 minutes wandering the shelves.
I love the way the light floods in through the dining room windows in the late afternoon. This is the place to curl up with a book, whether for pleasure, for work, or for some hybrid of both, which is the place I most often land. I live in books, really, and often enough in this room. Cup of tea, cup of coffee, maybe a glass of wine or something on the rocks. A new novel. An old one. Something I bought six months ago, something I shelved wrong, something I found by accident in the store and again half an hour ago. This wall of books. This dining room. We eat in here maybe five times a year, but this corner of the house is full of ideas. Full of possibility. A story that tells itself over and over again.
Get our most popular weekly newsletter: This is NC