Columnist

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

There are plenty of things I miss about the big, old Victorian house we sold last year. I miss the front porch swing, the neighborhood, the feeling of being in the middle of everything. Those were mostly outside things.

What I miss most about the inside of the house? The bookshelves.

The first change we made after moving into the old house all those years ago was to put floor-to-ceiling shelves on both sides of the fireplace in the dining room – a project my dad and his friend completed with such precision it looked like the shelves had been there for the hundred years since the house was built. While a dining room might not be the obvious place for a library, I liked how when guests were at the table, I could reach behind me and pull a novel off the shelf, and maybe send it home with them.

The shelves date back to the days before electronic readers (and TV binge watching) replaced actual paper books and their place in our homes. My reading habit allowed me to amass hundreds of books – mostly hardcover, because I like the feel of that in my hands.

But with time, the house grew too big, and we downsized to a ranch home. Knowing there would be no room for so many books, the winnowing began. I donated some, sold others (I was appalled at how little they pay for used books), and stored the rest in the basement. Because the place felt too naked without books, I stacked a few dozen under tables and on the floor – a design approach that irritates the farmer, who has a more orderly view on decorating.

“I’ll build some shelves,” he said last week. I don’t think I would have been as happy had he said, “I’m building us a front porch with a swing.”

The bookshelves will be in the den, which recently underwent a major upgrade. Although the shelves will not be as wide or as tall as the ones we left behind, there will be room for most of the books stored in our basement and all of those stacked on the floor.

In anticipation, I dove into the boxes in the basement, unearthing favorite biographies and novels – many of them purchased during all those years when our book clubs met every month. Poking through a box of books is a lot like leafing through a photo album; you spend so much time in the pages, the characters start to feel a bit like family.

The wonderful Anna Quindlen has written a lot about the joys of reading, once saying that she would be “most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” I’ve remembered that quote all these years, because I agree. Even at times when I’ve been too busy to read my books, it feels good to have them around me.

My favorite thing is to read a book while sitting on a porch swing. The farmer is making plans to build us a porch this summer.

But first, the shelves. The wood is spread out in the garage, ready for sanding and staining. From what I can tell, the shelves will be beautiful, lining one wall of the den.

In another week or so, my books will have their own place again, and our house will feel like home again.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at cootiej@aol.com.

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