Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A case of you

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):

bababadalgaraghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonneronnntuonn-
-thunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!!

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 [1]. 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 [2] 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.

Notes:

[1] 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.

[2] 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: ,

19 comments:

Just Mohit said...

Great post Falstaff! You could have been describing me!!
BTW, is there a link to the folding bookshelves?

Anonymous said...

"this glorious new coop for my featherless wonders."

nice line...
u write well.. but if i hav to be candid, i didnt find this post enormously humourous...

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

I share your pain.

http://shoefiend.blogspot.com/2005/10/screw-it.html

By the way why are your clothes and shoes in plastic bags? You could have ordered a cupboard while you were online

Falstaff said...

Just Mohit: Thanks. The folding bookcase comes from Target - it's fairly standard issue so not very hard to find.

Anonymous: Thanks. Honesty is always a good policy. And the premiums are low. But you really didnt find it funny? Not even a teensy-weensy little bit. Sigh. I think I'm going to fold my bookcase like the Arabs and as silently steal away (wow! two Longfellow references in one week.)

Shoe-fiend: Ya, I remember reading that one. And wondering why someone would put in that kind of effort just to store SHOES (forgive me!). Oh, and I have plenty of cupboard space. It's just that I figure, why go to all the trouble of hanging these clothes up if I'm going to wear them again at some point and could just pick them up off the floor

babitha said...

Congratulations! You managed to get away from the assembly bit that we were discussing. I got mine too and its already over-full. I thought I was majorly over-ordering and was gleefully contemplating how many more books i'd have the excuse to buy (filling up the bookcase of course) only to find that there is absolutely no space left now.

And how I wish Indian furniture guys were not so tuned into market demand. But then, they seem to know their customers well and therefore they dont stock bookshelves, but have crazy options for bar cabinets and home theatre shelves!

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

"just to store SHOES"

JUST? JUST? *Faints and is quickly revived with caffeine.* I'm finding it very hard to forgive you for this. I gave away 10 pairs of shoes over the weekend due to lack of space (and also as the shoes were out of step with spring summer 06) and now I find I'm keeping cyber company with a shoe hater. Gasp! This will be seen as a serious offence in the secret shoe lovers society.

OK enough melodrama (sorry the rest of my life isn't exactly fun right now). I forgive you.

panu said...

WHADDAYA KNOW??? I stumbled to a fellow sufferer's blog!! My shelf gave up on me a month back and since then it has been plastic bags on the floor and half my bed...

While sharing sorrow, may I dare add that you exaggerate a Leetle bit??

and, some bits of the post reminded me of Kafka's Metamorphosis...

*Runs before getting turned into less than nothing*

Aishwarya said...

For me, the new shelf became necessary when I realised sharing a single bed with a large number of books was not only uncomfortable but could cause the books in question great harm.

The most worrying part is that I only started seriously buying books (and looking after them and keeping them) three years ago. The future looks bleak.

Anonymous said...

Its a wonder how people are quick to comment and make judgements as experts. The guy writes for himself and writes whatever please him and not to get noticed and to be commented upon.or maybe my inference of 2x3x7 isnt what i think it is?

Falstaff said...

Babitha: Thanks. Ya, thank god.

Also, errr...you want us to believe that bar cabinets are not something you would care too much about given your tee-totalling ways? Nice try, honey.

Shoe-Fiend: A Thousand Apologies. If it makes you feel any better, I dont' hate shoes. Gregory Corso writes: "It's just that I see love as odd as wearing shoes". My take on shoes is the opposite - I see wearing shoes as being as peripheral as love. It's useful and you can't really get by without it, but it's usually more trouble than it's worth, and you don't want to spend too much time thinking about it, and you basically want to stick with one choice till it wears out completely and you have to move on to the next.

Panu: You too? Hmmm...maybe it's a conspiracy; maybe the bookshelves are trying to take over the world. And Kafka's Metamorphosis? Really? Don't you think you may be exaggerating a leetle bit? (actually, I'm exaggerating a lot, but what the hell, it works for sex, so why not for blog posts?)

Aishwarya: ya, well. The scary bit for me is that the bulk of my books are back home in India with my parents. I came to the US a year and a half ago with just about as many books as half a small suitcase would hold. This means that in the last 18 months I've acquired ~ 80 books. And that's not counting the ones I a) bought in India and left there and b) have bought and left with other people. You see why bookshelf space is an issue?

Anonymous: Errr...thanks for the spirited defense, but I'm always happy to receive feedback and well, people say what pleases them (or doesn't) in their comments and as long as they're not abusive and I don't have to take them too seriously (and they can spell), it doesn't bother me.

DoZ said...

I have books AND shoes... I figure that's what God made carpets for - so that both can feel nice & cozy and have lots of breathing space. I am fortunately to live in a duplex, and have LOTS of carpeted area to fill.

Anonymous said...

falstaff, there are different tools of humour.. u restrict yourself to just one... i wud ve liked it better if u wud of brought out the humour in the situation with as much emphasis as u place on the quips and one-liners.. somehow i find these rather adoloscent..
and thanks for bein sportive about my comments..

Heh Heh said...

did i tell you I managed to get past the first 20 pages of finnegans wake?

Falstaff said...

doz: not sure having more space would make me get more into shoes. I suspect I would end up filling it with more books.

anonymous: no worries. You're entitled to your opinion, after all. And I don't disagree that there really isn't much situational humour in the post - mostly because the situation isn't particularly funny - my old bookshelf broke, I ordered a new book case, it arrived, I set it up. P.G. Wodehouse might have managed to make something dramatically funny out of that (do bookcases have aunts, I wonder?) but it's certainly beyond me.

heh heh: Really? I put feet. What do you know? You might actually deserve that office with a window.

meditativerose said...

sigh ... I see where this is headed ... no Falstaff ... you CANNOT leave more books at my place. And to think I actually believed I might be able to finally get the depressing German philosophers out of my house.

Very damaging to image, I tell you. sigh.

dazedandconfused said...

Bookshelves may break, but at least adventurous kids cant scratch their names on it, like they have done on my car. :( Am biding my time till I get my hands on one who happens to stray from the pack...

Falstaff said...

MR: huh? German Philosophers. Come on, you don't seriously expect anyone to believe that I left my precious German Philosophers behind at your place, do you? i know there are a whole bunch of my books lying with you, but I don't remember any German Philosophers among them.

Anyway, I don't see what you're complaining about. Given that this way you get lure unsuspecting people up to your apartment and impress them with how 'well-read' you are by showing off my books. It's the only reason you have an image at all.

Also, well, it's not like you have to keep my extra books. If you'd rather I not store my books with you, that's fine. I'll just 'gift' them to you, and then come over and stay at your place while I read them.

d&c: my condolences. Yet more evidence that children are a plague.

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