Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Demonic Bookcases, Part 1

Today's guest blogger is writer Kathryn Ptacek, who lives in rural northwest New Jersey and shares her old Queen Anne home with lots of books, the requisite author cats, teapots, and the occasional visiting mouse.

She's tackling the most common writer clutter problem: Crowded bookcases.

Demonic Bookcases, Part 1
by Kathryn Ptacek

I love books! Big, short, thick, old, new, illustrated... books, books, books! I collect them, and it shows, because I have them everywhere in my house. Every room has at least one bookcase in it, and some have as many as six or seven. Only the bathroom remains bookless.

My late husband was also a horror writer and also a book collector, and when we moved to this house, we had little furniture–but we did have dozens of boxes of books. Those numbers increased over the years, and all those volumes piled up. On the bookcases, under tables, and on the floor here and there.

Fast forward decades, and now I'm surrounded by dusty tomes, and I'm kind of drowning. I love books, but I can't have them everywhere. I especially can't have stacks on the floor where the cats and I can knock things over, or in my case, where I can trip over them.

So I decided to cull my collection. Several years ago I started working on the hardcovers in the front parlor. The fiction hardbacks are there, while the fiction paperbacks hang out in the adjacent living room; nonfiction books reside upstairs in the two offices. And the guest room. And the hallway. I boxed up a lot of books and sent them off to a fellow to sell at auction. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

The first time I picked up a book to put in a box, I was sure I heard Charlie's voice saying, "No, not that one!" But, yes, that one. And the one next to it, and the one under it, and the three off to the left. I sent dozens and dozens of books to the auction guy. Then I stopped working on the books, and even though I wasn't buying many, they still seemed to show up downstairs. (Could books be like clothes hangers and multiply in the dark? Possibly.) Then just a week or so ago, I was staring at the bookcases in the living room and decided I needed to alphabetize these books... and then I could get rid of some.

Living Room, Before
Another problem? An incredible number of knickknacks clustered in front of the paperbacks. It was getting to the point where sometimes I could barely see the book. Somehow, objects in my hand as I entered the living room always found their way to the bookcases. What to do with the extra key to the garage? I'll put it on this shelf so I can find it if I happen to lose the other key. Oh, well, I've just come across some interesting keyrings—maybe they should go with that extra key- just in case. Flashlights? I need them at hand in a single location for when the power goes off. Little emergency radio? Better put it with flashlights so I can find everything together. Small lantern? Goes with the emergency stuff!

Seashells? On the bookshelf! Interesting rocks found on walks? Next to the shells! What's this piece of plastic? Don't know. Put it on a shelf until I can figure out where it belongs. It's a never-ending cycle. Or so I thought.

Front Hallway, Before
Last week I grabbed some cartons and removed all the stones and pieces of wood and seashells and cat figurines and keys and teapots that had piled up over the years. Into the boxes! I'll deal with them later.

Then I started pulling books off the shelves and shifting them around. The authors with "A" and "B" and "C" last names go in this one. "D" names start on this other bookcase. Can't fit them all? Time to figure out which authors I no longer love.

It's hard to part with the books. I just might read some of these in future, even though I've only had some of these books for thirty years.

But I've hardened my heart. If I truly can't stop thinking about some classic, well, there is the library. I can't own every book, right?

Kathryn's novels are now out as ebooks from Crossroad Press and Necon Ebooks. Her first collection of short stories, Looking Backward in Darkness, was released by Borgo Press in 2013. She has short stories in two recent anthologies: Fright Mare and Expiration Date.

She can be reached at gilaqueen@att.net or through her Facebook pages.


  1. I go through the same kind of thing, between the books and the bookshelf knickknacks, and I accumulated them all myself. But I do have you beat in one area, Kathryn--I also have books in the bathroom!

  2. I loved the flashlight bit, that was funny.

    Books, books, books. When Tim and first got together between the two of us we had so many books and no room for them. Still, we held to them for awhile until, dun dun dun ... donation time.

    We have some still, our favorites but the rest are gone and these days, I'm reading fiction on the Kindle, more than paperback. Which, I never thought I would but never say never.

    PS: Hahaha on books in the bathroom. Us too!


Comments are moderated to prevent spam appearing on this page. This means you won't see your post right away. Sorry for the inconvenience.