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Books Before Furniture, by Vivian McInerny

Former 805 contributor Vivian McInerny reminiscences about filling her new home with books before anything else. This post is part of 805's “My Home Library” series that features writers and artists enjoying their home libraries. McInerny's short story "Snow Drifts" was published in 805's second issue.

We didn’t have a stove yet. The refrigerator was still on order. We had no bed, only a mattress on the floor. We furnished the living room with white wire patio chairs we’d bought for $5 a piece at an end-of-summer sale that left grid-marks on the backs of my thighs.


Our new house was nearly empty. But we had books.


We paid a friend with carpentry skills to build bookcases. He covered three walls of one room with floor-to-ceiling shelves. I spent several weeks hand-brushing oil-based paint on the wood planks.


At the time, I couldn’t image we’d ever fill the bookshelves. We’ve since filled, emptied, and refilled those shelves more times than I’ve tracked. More recently, we’ve tried to leave some breathing space between titles, adding treasured mementos, framed prints, baby shoes, the toy royal carriage from my husband’s British childhood.



The titles are arranged, more or less, alphabetically by author. There are loosely defined areas for fiction and non-fiction, shelves of oversized books, two shelves of children’s books for two daughters long-grown, and a shelf devoted to books bought but not yet read.


At times I’ve tried arranging shelves by color. White book jackets next to a white vase, a free promotional white ceramic saltine cracker, and a plastic cell phone box that I, in a moment of artistic delusion, decided looked like a mini Louise Nevelson sculpture in white.


I’ve read and written in that room surrounded by books. I’ve lulled babies with the gentle sing-song of picture books pulled from its shelves. On rainy days, I’ve pored over nearly forgotten photography books, searched pages for passages of favorite novels, and touched the inked signatures of William Styron, Maxine Hong Kingston, John Fowles, Toni Morrison and others as though my fingers might absorb something of what those authors mean to me.


Despite my occasional Marie Kondo-flare-ups, I enjoy being surrounded by books and things that spark no joy when it comes to dusting.


I use the public library more often these days.


But I can’t stop buying books.


Vivian McInerny is a journalist, fiction writer, and hoarder of books. Her short stories are published in several literary journals. Her debut children's book, The Whole Hole Story, was published in 2021 with Versify, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


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