You know you buy too many books when even your bookshelves start to give up on you. That's what happened to me a couple of weeks back. There I was, curled up in my quilt, reading my own book, minding my own business (the fact that this was at two in the afternoon on a weekday need not be dwelled on, thank you) when suddenly something went (to quote Joyce):
and there were all my gorgeous, gorgeous volumes of poetry strewn all over the floor.
Now as a general rule I have a pretty tolerant view towards things being strewn over my floor (and not just books either - but polythene packets and clothes and shoes and even the odd serving of pasta) but only if the strewing is done by a sensitive, artistic soul (that would be me, of course), not by some mindless contraption. When it comes to creating a mess I'm all for handicraft . So the sight of all my beloved books lying in disarray on the floor horrified me. It was like one of those pictures of the Blitz. You know, the teary-eyed woman, her face caked with ash and blood, looking at her ruined home (which has suddenly turned black and white, in addition to falling down) and a small wide-eyed child, staring straight into the camera, entirely uncomprehending of the fate that has overtaken him. That's pretty much how I felt.
Not of course, that this collapse of the bookshelf was entirely a surprise. For months now, well-wishers had been warning me that I was putting too much strain on the poor shelf. For weeks a sag had been clearly visible in the centre of the shelf, the edges were starting to crack, the whole thing had the appearance of one of those bridges you see in adventure flicks which give way progressively until it's the last person's turn to cross and escape the evil ogre / dinosaur / axe-murder / insurance salesman, and then the whole thing gives way and you're left with two figures flailing their arms towards each other across the chasm, the one on the safe side shouting 'GIVE ME YOUR HAND!' in his loudest possible voice (because with the bridge gone, sound can't travel across, of course - that's just elementary physics people!) while the Balrog looms closer.
Still I couldn't help feeling miffed. Mostly because the book I was reading was one I'd taken from that overloaded shelf itself. I mean if the shelf collapsed when I put more weight on it, fair enough, it was my fault for pushing it too far, I would take my punishment like a man (which means I would drown my sorrrows in swift manly gulps of vodka after I'd cried my eyes out) but it was ridiculous for it to fall apart just when I was making things easier for it. I mean who ever heard of the camel's back getting broken because you took off the saddle. These shelves I tell you. Make the slightest concession to them and they'll immediately want more. Strictest discipline. That's the only way.
Still, as everyone knows, it's no use crying over spilt books, so I gathered my poor injured darlings together, lined them neatly up against the wall (where they promptly turned their spines to me, despite my humblest apologies) and went online and ordered myself a spanking new, mission something or the other, xyz-wood, four shelf book case.
The arrival of which this merry morn, is, of course, the point of this post. Not that I went and picked it up in the morning, of course. No, no, a busy man like me can't just go running off whenever he pleases. Like the diligent worker I am I spent the day carefully and meticulously deciding how I would arrange my books in this new bookcase  and only when the hour of five pm had struck did I close my books, take off my glasses and polish them, and having wished the Head Clerk a very pleasant evening set off on my way across the river to Nevsky Prospect to see if Olga had...oh, wait, wrong narrative. Hmmm...where was I? Ah yes, so it's only at five that I showed up at the package room of my building to collect this fabled book case, this glorious new coop for my featherless wonders.
Picking up the book case proved a trifle more difficult than I'd expected. Literally. The package it came in turned out to be the sort of thing you get if you let heavy oak doors mate with surfboards, and the label on the top helpfully informed me that the whole thing was meant to be 'Team Lift' and should therefore only be lifted by multiple people, preferably the entire cast of the Philadelphia Eagles (or some similar collection of muscle-bound proto-simians) or Captain Ahab's crew. There are times, though, when I don't know my own strength (an ignorance that I never cease to be grateful for, especially when I'm letting little old ladies help me carry my luggage at airports) and through the dint of brute force, sheer willpower and the temporary loan of a convenient luggage cart I managed to wrestle the brute through the door of the package room and up to my room, esconcing it firmly against my side wall, where it sat leering like some malevolent god (think of that hideously evil mummy in Tintin and the Seven Crystal Balls and you'll get the picture).
So far so good. It was at this point that the truly menacing proportions of my predicament were brought home to me (pun intended). It wasn't just that the bookcase seemed unbelievably huge, so that the question of whether, once assembled, it would not be more prudent to fit my apartment into it rather than trying to fit it into my apartment seemed a pertinent one. The real rub was right there, three lines back (well, three and a half lines now, I mean four, oh, dammit!) - the thing would have to be assembled. By me. Me, the recipient of the 1998 Tom-was-that-your Thumb award from clumsiest handyman ever. Me, the craftsman so inept with his tools that the bravest nails have been known to turn crooked at the sound of my approach. Me the DIY god who put the AARGHH! back in flimsy and couldn't get it out again. The irony of this was not lost on me. I was going to trust my precious books to a book case that I had assembled, because I felt that putting them on shelves that had been carefully constructed by skilled and experienced workmen was too risky.
I decided I might as well get on with it. I thought I'd read the assembly instructions. These it turned out, were actually inside the package, and the folks over at Target had neglected to provide instructions on how to open said package. Fifteen minutes of cutting edge work (pun intended again) with a scissor, a knife, my housekeys, my teeth and that sharp edge of the table I'm always bumping into later, I finally had the package open. I took a deep breath and reached for the assembly manual. Which turned out to be all of one page long! Half of which was instructions on how to care for your product after you'd assembled it! Were these folks kidding me? Who did they think I was, Stradivarius? Geppetto? With a sigh of utter hopelessness, I read through the few desultory instructions they'd cared to provide. "Place book case on oblique surface" it said. Were you allowed to you use words like oblique on a first book case? "Then open side panels and let shelves fall into place. Your folding book case is now ready for use". Okay, that's it, that's way to complicated for me, I give...huh? What? FOLDING bookcase? You mean, you mean I don't have to assemble it? Really? It'll just open up and be ready to use? God, how smart of me to order that. Though I don't know. It would have been fun to assemble it from scratch. I was almost looking forward to it. Ah, well.
So there it was. One liberated, pristine bookshelf. It's light wood finish gleaming in the late winter neon lighting. Hallelujah!
The trouble I've always had with bookcases is that no sooner have I acquired them than I seem to fill them up. Completely. You know how gas expands to fill all the available space? Well, so do books. It's like there's a whole underground of my books that's been lurking in the shadows waiting for this day, like the meek waiting to inherit the earth. It's one of those sights that would make the Pilgrim Fathers proud. One minute you're Captain Smith, wending your way through a leafy New England countryside in search of Pocahontas. The next minute you're stuck in traffic on a Los Angeles expressway, gritting your teeth because that idiot in a red SUV just cut in in front of you. It's like watching ants strip a carcass in one of those speeded up nature videos, or that poem about the groundhog.
So, of course, my new book case is already beginning to take on the aspect of a Bombay chawl. Books crammed together any old how, one upon the other. Still at least they all have a proper space of their own now. Their place of pride. And I'm the owner of a shiny new bookcase. The kind you have to dust with a clean and soft cloth, and spray furniture polish on, and touch up with a furniture touch-up stick every now and then (or so the instruction manual informs me). Ya right.
 Doesn't your heart just bleed, thinking of all those poor village artisans in pre-British India, making a mess of their lives in such beautiful, original ways; and then the British came along and next thing you know calamity was general and efficient and mass-produced. How tragic.
 This is a an exceedingly delicate and complex procedure. Excel spreadsheets are involved, and the occasional exhibit that has to be formatted in Powerpoint. At one stage, I sat around for fifteen minutes dreaming of set squares and cursing myself for not taking Technical Drawing at school when I had the chance.
Categories: Personal, Humour