I worked for thirty-five years in an academic library, and briefly, part time, in a public library. For much of that time, I kept a copy of Wilson’s poem about books near my workstation. Though I worked in libraries, I wasn't permitted to have books at my station—these verses helped.
“Oh, for a book and a shady nook. Either in a door or out;
With the green leaves whispering overhead.
Or the street cries all about.
Where I may read all at my ease. Both of the new and old;
For a jolly good book whereon to look. Is better to me than gold.”
---John Wilson, 1887
My book collection formed, during my pre-teens. When I was young, I collected fairy stories. Later horse books. Still in my teens, it was fantasy, myth and the occasional SF story that took over my favorite shelf. In my mid-twenties I discovered C.S. Lewis, who took over my whole shelf for most of a decade—until I learned that he had been part of The Inklings. I felt I was the first to discover a mystical sect, and with it the mother lode of new books. The Charles Williams “spiritual thriller” novels and his Arthurian poetry soon consumed half of my favorite shelf. And there they have remained, fending off all those that seek to dislodge them.
The Inklings inspired me to write. I began collecting texts on writing fiction or fantasy. Donald Maass,’ The Break-out Novel was on the shelf well over a year, as I immersed myself in it, and tried to use all his words of literary wisdom in editing my manuscript. After I had followed every Maass rule, as closely as I was able, confident beyond measure, I submitted my manuscript to his agency, only to be rejected. I removed the book from the shelf immediately and for good.
The Shelf and I have been through many other permutations over the decades. The current version is part of a dark cherry five-shelf bookcase, which runs two and a half feet wide. Above its five official shelves is a precarious pile of books equal to a sixth shelf.
This bookcase is surrounded by more just like it, all solidly full of books covering one wall of my living room. Bookcase “relatives” are scattered in other places throughout the room wherever I could tuck them, between that stuff called “furniture.”
The Shelf is the fourth one from the floor. Dark cherry wood, it has taken possession of a couple of non-book items, like a clear stained glass box with a hinged lid and mirrored bottom I made in a stained glass class.
The Charles Williams books reside to one side of a small wooden box, which protects a deck of Arthurian tarot cards, there simply because Williams’ poetry is Arthurian. Flanking these books on the other side my candles were the early Anne McCaffrey books, Diana Wynne Jones, Barbara Hambly and recently, Patricia McKillip, as I revisit the mystical scenes in her works. McKillip perches, perhaps uneasily, beside the C. S. Lewis Bible gifted to me by a dear friend this past Christmas. Nearby, Lewis,’ Perelandra, The Great Divorce, and Miracles.