Nooks of Books

Some bookstores are brand new to me, but others are like old friends. The Book Nook in Glen Burnie is the latter. I actually remember the first time my friend Teri took me there (Teri drove us everywhere back then in high school because she not only had a license but also an actual *car*).

I remember being simultaneously entranced and overwhelmed by the place. The bookshelves seemed to go all the way up to the ceiling and, in some places, were stacked three layers deep. Books everywhere! How on earth could you find anything? Well, you just did.

Or, you asked. I quickly found that the women who worked there were super helpful and were almost always sure to know not only where things were but what inventory was available and on the shelves at any given time. If they were out of the Ursula Le Guin you wanted, they could probably tell you right off the bat, or at least tell you where it would be if they had any.

I also learned the card system – there were labels and cards everywhere telling you where major authors were located. Stacks of Anne Tyler here, piles of Joyce Carol Oates over there. I tended to start every visit to the Book Nook with the Classics section, which used to be by the door to the right and is now by the door to the left, but no matter – its “flavor” is the same even if the shelf has moved.

The core of my library, those little used mass market paperbacks that I used to carry back and forth with me from home to college and back every year, all came from the Book Nook – The Bell Jar, The Bluest Eye, The Color Purple, Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle, Siddartha, Steppenwolf (a present from Teri I’m SURE she bought at the Book Nook!) – all from the same store. That was the kindling that began a lifetime of book collecting.

My first visit to the Book Nook after starting the library project was, like all of them, a little too successful. Right away I started finding those enticing green spines of Virago Modern Classics, which I almost without exception will always buy – they have a high degree of quality and readability, and even if I weren’t maintaining this library, I’d probably buy them just to have high quality things to read: Kate O’Brian’s The Land of Spices, The Simple Truth by Elizabeth Hardwick, and The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins.

Then I found a Catherine Cookson, with whom I was unfamiliar, but she was on the classics shelf. A quick google search informed me that she was one of the bestselling British authors of all time. Onto the pile she went! Dorothy Parker, Virginia Woolf, Josephine Tey, Edith Wharton – the Classics section was cooking that day.

Then I wandered over to the mass market paperbacks and got myself into more good trouble. Annie Proulx, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Tyler – I have basics I need to cover and the Book Nook is an excellent place to do that.

I also ended up finding something I didn’t expect to find at the Book Nook – Child of the Dark by Carolina Maria de Jesus, which is her 1955 memoir of living in a favela in Sao Paulo (really the only book of its kind published in English from that time period). While it is not technically fiction, I am still collecting memoir since they are so important a piece of women’s writing in the 20th century, and I had had my eyes open for Child of the Dark. And there it was, right in Glen Burnie! I was very surprised and happy to find it.

I must tell you, though – as much joy as I get from finding and buying all these books, I have found new appreciation for all the librarians in my life, and the stultifying experience of…shelving. At first, I liked to shelve. But as my collection grows, keeping everything in order has become more burdensome, and shelving is more of a chore than a joy.


Part of this was my own fault. When I decided to organize by year, not by last name, I didn’t have that many books. A week or so into collecting, Brian made an offhand comment about my organization methods.

“Chronological, huh? So, within the books of a given year, you’re organizing by month published? That’s really cool. And organized.”

“Oh, no, I’m not that detail-oriented.”

“Oh, Ok. So, within each year, you’re doing it by last name.”

“No. I’m just…not doing anything at all, I guess.”

My last sentence just hung there as I realized that would not do. If I collected 500 books, or a thousand, that would mean a lot of books in each given year. Having no method wouldn’t work. So I reshuffled and organized within each year so that everything wasn’t willy-nilly. But clearly, all that reorganizing probably has a lot to do with my lack of enthusiasm for shelving now!

I really am trying to start anew and treat shelving with the joy I treat buying, but…thus far, my brain has not been fooled. It’s dull. When I finally slow down on the buying and settle in for just reading and reviewing, you’ll know it’s because the shelving did me in!

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