“Have you read all these?!?”

That’s usually the question posed to me by someone who visits our home and sees the shelves of books in my library for the first time. 

I don’t have an actual count of the number of books on my shelves – but it approaches somewhere near 3,000.  One wall, measuring about 14 ft x 8 ft high, has built-in shelves from floor to ceiling. There are 8 shelves on it, completely filled.  There are also 2 sets of bookshelves that set the room off from a front room, also completely filled.  One more sits beside my computer desk, also filled. 

That’s not all, and it usually garners an even wider-eyed reaction from visitors when I open the double folding doors along the back wall and reveal a closet (about 6 ft deep and 20 ft wide) also filled with bookshelves.  Most of my original books and reprints are shelved out in the library, and in the closet are binders full of copied books, plus all the copies of manuscripts, letters, etc – all the errata that makes up a researcher’s “stuff.”

When the above question is posed, I usually give a pat “yep.”  But honestly, there’s more to the answer.  I should actually admit that I’ve read perhaps half of the books cover to cover – many of them I’ve purchased for research only.  The latter books, though, I have skimmed through, or did a “speed-reading” in order to look for potentially useful material.  When someone pulls one of the books off a shelf, they’ll invariably see a whole bunch of those yellow Post-It notes sticking out of it, with notations written on them.  Years ago, I found this practice necessary in order to be able to find something later.  I got tired of the old “I know I read that somewhere” feeling – at least with the notes, I cut down the time of a search considerably.

The past few weeks, I’ve been making a considerable effort to organize the many boxes and files of loose papers and internet-printed books I’ve been accumulating.  I’m gearing back up for what I call my “writing season” – starting now and going through about October.  Probably many other writers here in the wicked-winter northeast take advantage of the cold months to write, but I’m just the opposite.  There’s usually so much going on around here during the holidays that I may only write an article over the 4 or 5 months, or devote the time to research and reading.  I work, then, just as hard at it, but I find it difficult to write much over the winter.

I thought about bringing this topic up tonite because of a post on a Civil War chat board I’m a member of (Eric Wittenberg’s Civil War Discussion Group or CWDG) that was posed recently.  One of the members asked what other folks planned to do with all their books someday, how many they’ve read, and how authors find time to simply read for pleasure.  Plus, recent visitors to our home have thrown that headline question at me recently while looking at my shelves, so I guess I have books on the mind tonite.

As to what to do with all this “stuff” once I shake off this mortal coil, I found that an interesting question.  One thought is to donate much of it, especially my Cavalry-Gettysburg Campaign material, to the Gettysburg NMP.  The new visitor center and research facility promised to be a real wizz-bang, and perhaps someone can benefit from all this stuff one day.  Being intimately familiar with what is currently at the Park’s library, especially concerning the cavalry, all this crap would definitely deepen their resources.  So that’s one thought.  But if one day I had a familiar member or close younger friend who showed as much interest in all this as me, leaving it to them might also be an option.  I have seen in several cases where historians have left their resources to various libraries and repositories for the use of other students, and I’ve always admired that.

Ooops… gotta run.  Looks like the Girl Scouts are at the door to deliver the cookies we ordered.  Hhmm, maybe they’d like to see the library before they go…

Published in: on March 7, 2007 at 9:33 pm  Comments (17)  

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  1. J.D.

    I always find it interesting that people’s first question when they see my office is “have you read all these.” I have to answer “no, because once I read one I have to rush out and buy another so I can maintain the room’s equilibrium.” For me buying books isn’t just about reading them all (I’d have to live three lifetimes to read all the books I own, not to mention the books I read about that I can check out from the library). It’s about the chase or the stories I have about finding a book that I’ve wanted for so long and found for a price I was willing to pay. It’s about looking at a particular group of Lincoln books that I have and knowing that they were the last gifts my mother ever gave to me, having been purchased with some of the money she left me after she died. I want them to go to someone who will not only be able to understand that, but who will not have to have that explained to them. By the way, did you get any thin mints this year?

    Best
    Rob

  2. Rob,

    I could not have said it any better. Am the same way here book wise, and I too appreciate the chase and getting a deal on a book that I have been looking for. No way I will ever read what I have here, but each book here is part of the story, as I recall where I got them. etc.

    As for donating the library here, while Gettysburg is the place I visit most often, I don’t think I would donate them there. I was very impressed with the new Civil War Library at Wilson’s Creek when I visited out there, and I know I have a lotta books here that they don’t have, so am leaning towards giving it to them after I am gone.

    Will just add, at least J.D.’s books are on shelves, where mine have taken over a room at the house here due to lack of shelf space.🙂

    Hope all is well.

    Regards from the Garden State,

    Steve Basic

  3. LOL Rob! I have the very same stories… the books my sister gave me over the years, the ones my Uncle gave to me. The ones I read as a little kid, poring over the pictures of soldiers and battles and wishing I could go back in time. Then, as you said, there’s the ones I’ve chased down over the years, and squealed with glee as I finally found them… either old first editions or an elusive reprint. Just about every book has a story. Maybe it’s just what was going on the day I copied some material – for instance, as I was copying some letters that a soldier of Elijah White’s 35th Battalion VA Cavalry wrote (while I was at MHI in Carlisle PA) director Richard Sommers recognized me, and came over to me with a female officer in uniform. He introduced me to her as a descendant of White himself. Talk about an irony! To this day, whenever I go through that file, I can’t help but play the resulting conversation over in my head. I eventually wrote an article about White (“America’s Civil War” magazine, March 2006 I think) and sent it to her – she was very appreciative of it.
    No one would every know all those little stories behind every piece of this stuff.
    And yeah, the wife got 2 boxes of thin mints. Bleeech. I hate mint. It’s the “trefoils” for me – I eat ’em by the boxfull!
    [buuuuurrp]
    J.D.

  4. Steve,
    When I visit, we’ll go to the local home center and get you some lumber. You know I’ve built all the shelves here myself (besides the writing I fancy myself a tall, skinny Norm Abram) and I think we can set you up.
    I just need a place to work, make a little saw noise, and you keep the beer coming…🙂
    J.D.

  5. I usually respond by saying that I haven’t read any of them or that they are actually fake books for show.

  6. JD,
    3,000?[gulp] While I now have a definite case of library envy, I’ll have to show this post to my wife to help her put mine in perspective! 8^)
    I’m currently in the dilemma of trying to figure out how to explain the substantial increase in size when I move most of my CW stuff back home from the office. Lucy’s not going to be the only one with some ‘splainin’ to do….

  7. LOL Kevin, I tried that too. Didn’t work with the wife, and it sure doesn’t work when another arrives in the mail!

    J.D.

  8. JD wrote:

    for instance, as I was copying some letters that a soldier of Elijah White’s 35th Battalion VA Cavalry wrote (while I was at MHI in Carlisle PA) director Richard Sommers recognized me, and came over to me with a female officer in uniform. He introduced me to her as a descendant of White himself. Talk about an irony! To this day, whenever I go through that file, I can’t help but play the resulting conversation over in my head.

    JD:

    I’m hoping to hear more of that conversation next month …🙂

    “Have you read all those?” That’s almost as popular as “Are y u a reenactor?”

    Mike

  9. I have all mine stored in several different locations. My collection numbers in the low hundreds, but I go through spurts of buying.

    It can be quite addictive.

  10. Don, good luck!
    Mike – I do plan to relate the story at my talk. It was quite interesting.
    It sure can, Chris. Credit card activity around here usually gears up when new books are released. I really enjoy visiting those little bookstores in the south in the smaller towns – they can be a treasure trove. I’ve found many books I’ve been looking for there. Great deals, too.
    J.D.

  11. J.D.

    I’ll have to eat the cookies vicariously. Since the doc decided I was diabetic, Girl Scout cookies are verboten (unless, of course, he doesn’t find out about it!). Thank God books don’t raise my blood sugar.

    Best
    Rob

  12. When you add in my non-Civil War books, I have about the same number as JD. My library room is completely filled. There is a bookcase in every room in our house except the dining room (because there is no room) and the kitchen (for obvious reasons), and nowhere to put any more. This means that the books are now beginning to pile up on the floor in my library. It’s ugly and gets uglier every day. I don’t know what I’m going to do about this problem….

    Eric

  13. Great post JD. I think that I’ll donate my own library to another someday, but for now, it remains my most cherished possession. (And it also blocks my secret staircase down to the Batcave.)

  14. As one who has personally seen Eric’s books (and tripped over a few of them) I vouch for his dilemma…

    J.D.

  15. I ended up selling or giving away a ton of my non-Civil War books. I used to be a baseball card dealer in the Cleveland area for many years, and when I moved to PA, I unloaded a ton of cards, sports books, etc. to save room. One danger of living near Gettysburg and Antietam – all that space saved by getting rid of the baseball books and cards has not been more than filled with ACW books. I can’t believe Greystone’s went out of business with all the cash I threw at them for ACW books and music.

  16. Steve,
    When I visit, we’ll go to the local home center and get you some lumber. You know I’ve built all the shelves here myself (besides the writing I fancy myself a tall, skinny Norm Abram) and I think we can set you up.
    I just need a place to work, make a little saw noise, and you keep the beer coming…
    J.D.

    J.D.,

    LOL, and there is no last call at the Basecat Bar and Grill here in the Garden State.🙂

    I still like the idea of putting a mobile home in the back yard and make it my CW Library, but the town of Oradell would probably have a hissy fit if I did so.
    🙂 You are the skinny Norm Abram, and when I enter the Mine in Gettysburg, I get called Norm each time I visit. That’s just about right.🙂

    Hope all is well.

    Steve

  17. I’m still thinking you can give me your books JD….and as for Girl Scout cookies, make mine Samoa’s!


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