Building Your Home Library

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Book learning won't make you into a competent home butcher of home-raised chickens but it will keep you from making as many mistakes when you are standing there, knife in hand and wondering where to start.

Book learning won’t make you into a competent home butcher of home raised chickens but it will keep you from making as many mistakes as you might otherwise do when you are standing there, knife in hand and wondering where to start.

We love books. We absolutely believe that there is too little time for all the wonderful books in the world. Uncontrolled book buying leads to two problems: bad books (or books that are not right for us) and lack of space. Shelf Space; the final frontier. If only we had more! 5,000 books and counting and we are running out of wall space. All of which is leading up to the vital importance of a complete home library.

Why do you need the most complete home library you can get? Because books remember for you. Because you cannot possibly learn everything there is to know, that there ever was to know, and that there ever will be to know. Books let you learn what other people, societies, civilizations have learned the hard way. Book learning won’t make you into a competent home butcher of home-raised chickens but it will keep you from making as many mistakes when you are standing there, knife in hand and wondering where to start. And no, we don’t raise chickens and we have certainly never had to get out the killing cone and kill, pluck, singe, draw, and dress a hen. But thanks to my reading, I do have some idea of where to start, i.e., get someone else to do it.

Books don’t require electricity or batteries and they can be read aloud to other people while you are all darning socks by the light of a single kerosene lamp. The words do not fall off of the page with multiple readings. They can be traded or resold and the words still remain easily read. They do not rely on advanced technology that is utterly dependent on the grid and the blood of Chinese miners. You may be able to run your Wi-Fi laptop off of your solar batteries but the internet itself is dependent on huge, huge server farms each of which uses enough electricity to light a small town. Your batteries use rare earths mined in China under dreadful conditions, rare earths that are becoming more difficult to find and more expensive. Books can be handwritten on the skins of sheep with homemade ink. You don’t have to have specialized technology to read them. Learn to read Old English and you can still read medieval manuscripts. Lose the equipment to read old floppy disks and they become dust catchers pretty quickly. Assuming of course that the magnetic data has not degraded over time.

If you don’t need a specific title, it can be traded to someone who may want it. What you don’t need to know now, may turn into useful information later on; the book remains perfectly legible while waiting quietly on a shelf. Even those ranks of Reader’s Digest’s condensed books have their uses: insulation, toilet paper, sound deadening, fire starters, radiation barriers, art projects.

Only you can decide on the re-readableness of James Patterson.

Only you can decide on the re-readableness of James Patterson.

So what books do you want? For fiction, pick titles that you would want to read over and over. Only you can decide on the re-readableness of James Patterson. Disaster and apocalypse novels can be interesting because of the what-if scenarios they pose. Alien attacks, comet strikes, economic collapse, electromagnetic pulses, pandemics, volcano eruptions or Zombie uprisings: the characters should have stored more food and organized a neighborhood watch program prior to the events in the book. How many stupid, eye-rolling things do the characters do? Use this sort of reading to guide your own contingency planning.

For non-fiction, I like to focus on how to books. I cook a lot (from scratch!) and so I have a wide variety of cookbooks, particularly older ones that don’t use fancy ingredients and ones specifically about food preservation techniques. I sew a lot so I have lots of sewing books. I don’t know how to knit, but I do have some basic picture instruction books on how to do it and someday, I might have the time to learn. Gardening books on vegetables, fruits, seed saving, soil building, and permaculture have more importance to me than titles on ornamental flowers. All kinds of basic home repair topics, disaster preparedness, thrift and money management, first aid, keeping chickens; anything you think you might want to do or should learn. If you think you might, eventually, want to learn another new skill, buy the books (and read them!) to get an idea of if you really do want to keep pigs or build a solar hot water heater. A second hand book can be very cheap and will wait quietly on the shelf until you are ready for it. We buy books when we see them, ahead of time, for potential future use, as we don’t know if that title or subject will come up at the library sale when we really need it.

Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg (click to embiggen).

Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg (click to embiggen).

Bill is a writer and a book annotator, so we also have a huge selection of histories, references, biographies, Hollywood, the Civil War, and now, a new focus on world and American history from 1875 to 1930. We have found that it is easier to search our home library first for a reference work, then move on to the library, and then onto Google and internet. The internet is very useful for looking things up but what happens when previously free sites become pay per use? Will a site still be there a few years down the road when you need it again? That book on your shelf won’t go away. You can also annotate the index of your own copy to make it easier to find a topic again, scribble notes in the margin, and highlight important passages.

Cupboard Maker Books, Enola, Pa.

Cupboard Maker Books, Enola, Pa.

We buy books all over. We are poor and thrifty so we are rarely able to buy brand new titles from Amazon. Before you shriek, there are no local, independent new bookstores where we live, we do have two really excellent used bookstores fairly close by. Cupboard Maker Books in Enola (across the Susquehanna River) has a huge selection of fiction and non-fiction, and cats galore. The Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg is almost exclusively non-fiction and they have everything under the sun. There must be 100,000 books in that store and that doesn’t include the additional warehouse further uptown. They have a nice little cafe and some local art for sale. Further afield is the Lion’s Club book barn near Avondale, Pa. 50,000 books and only five dollars a bag. They have a very large range of topics and they are even fairly well organized by subject.

We go to library sales whenever we can. You never know what you will find at a library sale and they are always worth attending. Do not skip checking out every thrift shop and yard sale. The price is right and you simply do not know what will be there. One of our odder books is a compilation of the Madame & Eve comic strip. This is one of the most popular newspaper comics in South Africa and if I hadn’t found the book at the local Goodwill ($2!) we would have never even known it existed. It is also a pretty neat view of South African culture and everyone enjoyed it very much. I have even picked books up out of trash bins and from along the curb. If we can’t use it, it gets passed along one way or another.

If we run across a title (through our reading) that would be a good addition to our home library but we don’t get lucky locally, then comes to the rescue. This site lets you interact with used book dealers all across the country. ABEbooks has worked very well for us in finding off beat or unusual titles. eBay has loads of books listed every day as well.

My home library. We built 22 bookcases in varying sizes, all yellow.

My home library. We built 22 bookcases in varying sizes, all yellow.

As your library grows, you will be need to consider where to put them all. Books require shelves. These are not that hard to build and any how-to carpentry book has instructions. Similar to your food storage, books like it cool, dry, and climate controlled. Damp, moldy basements lead to disaster. Your stored boxes of books will become unreadable silverfish motels. Don’t do this. Build shelves. Every room in our house, other than bathrooms, has bookshelves. We build floor to ceiling for better space utilization. The walls of books also contribute insulation and sound deadening. Dedicated paperback shelves fit nicely along narrower hallways. Some shelves fit in the unusable space behind open doors. All my cookbooks fit in a very high, just under the ceiling bookshelf that runs over the kitchen bulletin boards. That was 10 feet of new space.

Keep your books shelved, in order by topic for non-fiction and by author for the fiction, and you will always be able to find the one you are looking for. We have so much non-fiction that we break books down into larger categories: religion and philosophy, sewing and crafts, cooking, home maintenance, preparedness, thrift, biographies, Hollywood and the media, and history. History is being reorganized into a straight line by when the topic of the book took place. The shelves start with prehistory and march forward into today. This lets us file current events at the end as current events turn into history all on their own. Organization is a must as books you cannot find are books that you don’t own. It is very annoying to discover the missing title after you buy another copy. The only saving grace here is that you can trade the duplicate to Cupboard Maker books for a different title.

So if you see a likely title at the Salvation Army or the library sale for $2, buy it! They can use the money and you may not easily find it again. Or, more likely, you could buy it from if only you could remember the title and author. Build your home library on every topic now, when books are easy to find, and cheap. As your library grows, you may need to refine it by passing no-longer needed titles along to friends, your local used book dealer or the library sale. This action can generate both good-will and more books that are more useful to you. Start building your library now, and be better prepared for whatever comes your way.

Next Week: Spouse Conversion