• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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See What You Lost WHen You Left This World

Today, after living in this house for three years, I’ve finally got some bookcases coming. I’ve looked at every catalogue, gone to every second hand store, bought and returned two different cases. I found a young man who can build anything and he designed a bookcase that will perfectly fit my wall, and the trim will match the trim about the window. I already know that I will be sad to see the piles of books on the floors go. I hate change of any kind, even for the better. I don’t hate it exactly, I just get tremendously attached to certain things being a certain way. I have a fantasy to paint them the way Virginia Woolf painted hers. Or maybe Vanessa Bell painted them, but the sides were decorated with harlequin panes and I remember being completely delighted by them.  But I’m too much of a pussy. Plus I can’t paint. When I was pregnant I made the mistake of trying to paint a dresser and trompe l’oeil a side table.

I know I’ve talked about bookcases before; but it’s the closest thing I’ve got to a soul.

38 Responses

  1. I’ve lived in my house for nine years and I still don’t have bookcases enough for all my books. I have one on the upstairs landing that my mother left me – it’s stuffed with books, and a table in my living room groaning under the weight of them. In my breakfast room, I have speakers with piles of books on top. Every time the door is closed or opened, they wobble a little bit closer to the edge. I’m the same as you about change, Betsy. I get scared that if I change one thing, the Universe will think it can change other things without telling me first. I need time to think about it. Like nine years.

  2. You may not like change, but I bet you’ll just about come unglued when you’ve got your books — your books! — all in order on those gorgeous new shelves. So exciting!

    This is our 5th house in 15 yrs. We’ve learned we need 2 things: toilets that waste water (none of that low-flow stuff) and walls of shelves. The meaning of decadence.

  3. Bookcases ARE the manifestation of what is dear to your heart, what sustains your soul – why else are visitors so drawn to inspect those shelves?
    My design advice for the day: embellish the back wall of the bookcase with an accent color paint, textured fabric or a wallpaper in a complicated pattern. Not only does it act as an interesting background for the book spines, etc., it adds a visual depth to the bookcase. Also: hope your carpenter is using the flat metal shelf pins and not those horrid plastic clips (the clips do keep the shelves in place, but make it difficult to re-arrange the shelves later).

    • What a great idea to wallpaper or paint the inside of the bookcase. Very cool!

      • For one client, I had the back of their bookcases upholstered in gray wool – looked great with their leather-bound books and small art pieces!

  4. Close enough. I too have lived with piles of books befloored in a caseless place, then transitioned to bookcases filled with beloved tomes (and some volumes not loved so much, but a book’s a book at that). May the sight of your new, customized bookcases, spines of books saying, Home at last, bring you joy and peace. And they’re pretty good insulation, too.

    • right on about the insulation. my heating bill was cut in half when i finally took the room length pile of books from the floor and lined them against the wall in the 11′ x 8′ bookcase of my own design and “craftmenship”. (shelves sit a top a platform w file boxes underneath for all those manuscripts/papers) life is delightful and warm, w a good bookcase.

  5. I’m hyperventilating at the thought of leaving my walls of bookcases and more so, the fruits of my book hoarding when I move into a matchbox apartment in Finland this summer. I will especially miss looking at spines through the wavy glass of my antique barrister shelves, even the one with the little crack.

  6. Our entire lower level is paneled in bookcases and yet we continually run out of space. Where to put all the new books we keep buying and reading and loving too much to give away and besides, we reason, we have to support all those great new voices. My husband, my greatest fan and supporter, challenges all those who say they are on the list to read my books (all two of them) . . . maybe 18 or 20 down the line. “Buy the dam book,” he says. “How do you suppose authors make any money.” He doesn’t mention the agents and publishers who take the risk of publishing new writers but I think of them. Probably some have just run out of space and bookshelves. Anyway, Betsy, perhaps you could talk “to” your bookshelves. They might love to act as a canvas for your artistic forays.

  7. The piles of books along the walls in my bedroom were very telling. They spoke of organizational disarray and a lack of admiration, not only for the stories, but for the hearts and souls that went into them. So up to the attic I went and dragged down a set of shelves just large enough to put my before, after and will-get-to-reading in order. It’s wonderful to see my buddies standing straight with the respect they deserve.

  8. The cases aren’t your soul, they represent your body. It’s the books you choose to fill them with that are the bits and pieces of your soul. I too am obsessed with bookcases. They are more than just furniture, they guard and display the pieces of me title by title.

  9. Woddy Allen always has amazing bookcases in his movies. Plus, with a personal carpenter boy you can always tweak them as needed. Yes, there’s the bohemian lure of Bloomsbury type paint – hence my small Swedish chairs for piling books – but there’s nothing like the solidity of wooden cases on a wall to soothe a restless book soul.

  10. A newish friend bought an enormous house with beautiful, ample built in cases. When I went to see the house, she asked me what I thought she should put in the book cases.

    “Uh … ”

    That was the beginning of the end of the friendship.

  11. My Kindle broke while I was on the elliptical on Saturday and I felt like Amazon had just burned down the library of Alexandria.

    • LOL. You’ve given me a nice laugh first thing in the morning. Sadly I can’t hear my own laughter over the sounds of my front steps be jack-hammered away. Who was Jack anyway, and why is his hammer so fucking loud?

  12. Sad story–When I was a teenager, I discovered the joy of working with wood, designed a bookcase, bought the lumber, sanded it smooth, stained it and had it drying in the basement. My stepfather liked nothing more on weekends than to get drunk and build a roaring fire in the fireplace, even on the hottest of days. You can see where this is heading. While I was having lunch he came up with an armload of kindling he had chopped and I noticed some of the wood was the same walnut shade stain I was using. He didn’t, I thought. He did. It’s useless to argue with an alcoholic, but I did my best. Nothing changed, never got an apology and to this day I clearly label all my woodworking project pieces.
    Enjoy your bookcase; one built by a craftsman will shine better than any other.

    • Damn, Mike. Here’s to better times.

    • Your stepfather had to be related to my parents – they had a perverse need to stoke their fireplace with “junk” furniture they also dismantled in the basement. Unfortunately other people would have called those items antiques (sigh).

  13. Whenever I hear words like this, “…a young man who can build anything,” I always feel lightheaded and an image of a rippled guy with a tattered black tee shirt and tool belt comes quickly to mind. I can’t ever see his face, which is fine. It’s him, in the act of creating something with his hands, that fires me up.

    On a different note entirely, maybe you can get this same man to design a plant stand made solely (no pun intended) of books. That way you’ll get your pile on the floor back.

    • A man in a tool belt automatically rises several degrees in desirability. A young man, in a tool belt, building bookcases with trim that matches the trim around the window?

      I think I need to lie down.

      • Lying down, are we?

        As the police officer said, “Show me your hands! I need to see your hands! Right now!”

      • Officer, officer, I can explain . . . Wait, is that a holster you’re wearing? Oh . . . thank you . . .

      • They’re repairing the elevator in the library today, Averil—I’ve spent the last hour watching a bevy of young men in blue tee-shirts, snug jeans, and tool belts work from about twenty feet away.

        If I ever complain about working in the basement level again, please remind me of the smile I’m wearing now.

      • okay, I laughed so loud I woke my dogs.

    • The idea of bookcases painted with harlequin patterns is enough to turn me on. I don’t care if they’re built by some Bubba with a mullet and an unfortunate growth on his nose.

  14. Claim your bookcases, claim yourself. When I had a baby, all the books went into the attic so I could use the shelves for toys and kids’ books. Ever since (16 years) I’ve been telling myself the house is too small, too bad I can’t have a bookcase again.

    Nonsense! Last year I envisioned a case in place of a dining room hutch jumbled with china and glasses I didn’t use. I bought a beaut. That case is mine — no husband’s or kid’s books — and I love it and every time I look at it I’m reminded that you need only shift your perspective the tiniest bit to let in the new.

    • My next dining room will be big enough to be lined with book shelves and still hold the table. Soft light, good food, great conversation surrounded by books? We may permanently stop eating in the kitchen.

  15. I’ve made bookcases from 2x4s cut to make blocks, then stained and stacked with boards laid across for shelves; the old dorm room thing of concrete blocks and boards, too. You can use large cans of tomato sauce to support boards for books, too.

    My favorites, though, are in this room. An oak laminate, sort of butcher-block material, which I got cheap, planed, sized, and mortised. After lots of sanding, I rubbed a teak oil stain in. It’s a light brown, and shows the grain nicely. They are tall and skinny, made to fit perfectly on each side of the door, matching the height of the molding over the door frame.

    Now and then I get it right.

  16. Is your personal carpenter boy sort of like Kurt Russell in overboard or Tom Hanks in Money Pit?

  17. I’ve recently decided that I can’t have more bookcases until I can find a way to acquire more walls to line with bookcases . . .

  18. You are living my dream, Betsy! Still saving to replace the overloaded IKEA (Bonde) shelves in the living room and the family room with built-ins.

  19. The best part of our house renovations came when the carpenter lined a wall in my piano room with shelves, two carpenters actually. It had taken years of dreaming. Now I can just sit there and look up from the piano and see books and sculptures, a huge junky gilt mirror, my favourites prints. The only teenager-free room in the house.

  20. My son is a carpenter and cabinetmaker. He builds house and makes copies of furniture at the Met. I have bookcases bolted to the wall floor to ceiling. They are the best. Nothing beats a good woodworker. Pay them anything they ask.

  21. My husband has never read a word I’ve written, but he built me a beautiful bookcase our first year together and then a whole library when I filled that up and covered the guestroom bed and coffee tables with books and started in filling the pantry shelves. Screw diamonds, the way to this girl’s heart has always been through books and the shelves that hold them…

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