Author Photos–Do They Matter?

I’ve seen a number of websites with tips for authors that stress the importance of a good author photo for the cover or inner flyleaf of their book. The basic advice is have a professional photographer do a photo shoot. Don’t use that picture from family vacation. A good photo helps sell the book. After all, people judge books by their covers and the author image on the cover is part of that.

Take the photos above. Tara Beth Leach has a new book coming out titled Radiant Church. The author photo conveys a radiant person–someone who would light up a room and make you feel welcome. At very least, there is a congruity between the person in the photo and the title of her book. Esau McCaulley wrote Reading While Black, reviewed here earlier this week. The book is somewhat scholarly, exploring how the Bible is interpreted in the traditional Black church in ways that offer hope for its people. Notice the glasses and the tweed jacket that gives the author a friendly, professorial look (he is one!) and the warm smile that suggests this is a person of hope. Again, the author photo is consistent with the book theme.

Theory meets reality. I asked the Bob on Books Facebook Page “How do author photographs affect your decision to buy a book?” The overwhelming response is that they are not a factor. One person wrote, “I don’t care what an Author looks like. Only how well they write. Sinclair Lewis was not a photographic man but he wrote many good books. Agatha Christie was plain as porridge but also was a great writer of mysteries.” One person wondered why the big deal about this–it is not a modeling job they are applying for. Cover art, the synopsis of the plot, a sense of the quality of the work, even the book blurbs seem to play a bigger part in why people buy a book. I also was reminded of the fact that many reserve books through libraries that they are interested in or buy e-books online where they rarely pay much attention or even see author images.

Before authors wonder why they spent all this money on a photoshoot, I still think there is a case to be made for the author picture. When we read, we are engaged in a kind of a conversation where we listen to another’s words, enter the mind and world of another person. Haven’t you found yourself wondering what kind of person this is who would write this way? I’ve looked at images of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and read whole biographies of both authors to try to get a sense of the persons who brought us so many wonderful works. One of the wonderful things about author readings when they were being done, and the many interviews we can watch online is that we can get a better sense of the people whose written works mean a great deal to us. To be able to look at a face offers a glimpse into the person. Somehow, for example, I look at pictures of James Lee Burke and see how he could create the character of Robicheaux.

I realize as I write this that the photos become more important as I read an author’s work. But I do also find myself trying to get a sense when I browse a book of whether the author seems the kind of person to deliver on what is said about the book. Am I going to like spending a number of hours with this person?

All this makes me realize how important the work of the photographer is in this enterprise. The author is trying to capture the person who wrote this book. No more and no less. Sure, dress, lighting and pose matter. But what we want is something of the essence of the person. We don’t want to be disappointed. And the author doesn’t want to be misrepresented. I wonder if there is an award for author photography. There probably should be.

These are at least some of my musings about this aspect of books and publishing. What do you think? How important is the author photograph to you when you pick up a book and decide whether you want to buy it?

My Post-Pandemic Bookish Bucket List

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I’ve missed places that look like this for the past year. It’s been OK from a reading point of view. With plenty of unread books around the house, new books that have arrived for review, and book orders from a few of my favorite book outlets, I’ve not lacked for books. Perhaps I’ve spent more time reading books rather than looking for them. Ordering online makes me more selective. But with the hope of a return to some kind of “normal” and staying healthy (Lord willing), there are some bookish favorite things on my post-pandemic bucket list:

  1. Browsing at our local Barnes & Noble with my wife and enjoying Caramel Frappucinos together and sharing our finds.
  2. Selling the boxes of books that have accumulated in the last months at our local Half Price Books and seeing if we can spend less money than we get for the books.
  3. There are a couple of newer bookstores around town I haven’t visited yet (ordered from one during a Small Business Saturday): Prologue Bookshop and Two Dollar Radio (I love the name). Two Dollar Radio is a brick and mortar indie that is also the headquarters of Two Dollar Radio, an indie book press.
  4. Visiting my local library. It is always a good place to learn about new books that I missed or browse ones I’m interested in. At various times we’ve been e-book only, reserve online only or restricted in person. It will be nice to just make a leisurely visit to the library.
  5. It has been a long time since I’ve visited one of the best used bookshops in the Midwest, the Book Loft, located in Columbus’s German Village. They have 32 rooms of books in this rambling store.
  6. Among the in-person events I look forward to is gathering with people to talk books. I’m in an online book group with my church. It’s been good. I’m torn–one of our members is from out of town, but in person would be enjoyable.
  7. Donating some books to a couple different organizations not currently accepting donations due to COVID.
  8. I look forward to scoping out bookstores in towns we are visiting. No plans yet–just something that is always fun to do. Hoping some of my old friends will still be there.
  9. Someday I hope to actually visit Hearts and Minds Books in Dallastown, PA. Need to find a reason to go to eastern Pennsylvania. I’ve been friends online with the owner whose newsletters I always look forward to. I love ordering from him and getting the meticulously wrapped books.
  10. This would really be a lark, but having read about the various libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie, I’d love to visit and photograph some of the Carnegie libraries still operating.

A few of these are technically possible (and many are not due to COVID restrictions) but being in an at-risk population, we’ve been very conservative about exposures. We are able to start signing up for vaccines for our age group on February 8. I’ve no idea when any of my bucket list will be possible, but at least it is fun to dream about the day when these may be possible. However, for me, none are worth taking the risks while infection rates are high, so until then, I’ll keep working on that TBR pile!

What items are on your post-pandemic bookish bucket list?

Bob on Books 2021 Reading Challenge

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There are lots of reading challenges that have to do with how many books we read. Some of us like them. Some don’t. We all have our own tastes. But I thought I would come up with my own reading challenge. An ongoing challenge for me as I get older is settling into familiar ways, ruts, maybe even my own “echo chambers.” So I thought of some “challenges” that at least will help stretch my reading habits. No number of books are involved (although if you read one of each you will read twelve–one for each month). You are welcome to join me for some or all–or none. The point is to keep reading both fun and enriching.

Old. Read one book that was written before your lifetime. One of the hazards of reviewing is that many of the books I read are published in the same year I’m writing. Old books can give a sense of perspective at times. My book:_________________________

New. At the same time, I tend to read authors I like and am familiar with in different genres. Most have published a number of books, so I can keep doing that for a long time. Find a new author in your favorite genre–read reviews, talk to your bookseller, or local librarian. My book________________________

Different genre. We tend to have our favorite genres. Get some recommendations and a book in a different genre. My son introduced me to graphic books, which I’m coming to like. A friend has been bugging me about reading a few thrillers. That might be the different genre for this year. My book________________________

Science or technology. I’ve observed that most people have never talked to a working scientist. The ones I’ve talked to have opened my eyes to the wonders of the world. There is so much we see but don’t really understand. I want to read something that will help me understand some part of the physical world a bit better. My book___________________________

Issues. Go deeper on one issue in the news. If you’ve already formed an opinion, try reading something that takes a different perspective. There are people as intelligent as I am who disagree with me. I’m curious why. Are you? My book_____________________________

Foreign country. Read a book about a country or a person from a country other than the one in which you reside. It could be history, biography, or even a travel book. My book_____________________________

Local history. From writing about the town where I grew up, I’ve discovered that both I and many of my readers knew little about the place where we grew up. So, now I have a book about Columbus on my reading stack–I’ve lived here 30 years and don’t know that much about my current home town. My book_____________________________

Foreign fiction. Fiction written by someone not from my country of origin allows us to see the world through a person who sees it from a different perspective. My book_____________________________

Re-reads. It can be a fascinating thing to re-read something we read at a different time of our lives. The book hasn’t changed but it is a mirror reflecting how we have. My book_____________________________

Religious Text. Here I have several suggestions. You could go deeper in exploring something in your own faith or you could read about a different religious tradition within your faith. You could read about another faith to understand it better. Spiritual but not religious? You might try a work of philosophy. Whatever is the case, we all could do with living up to the tenets of what we believe and understanding others better. My book_____________________________

A possible new hobby or interest. Yes, I know, reading is your hobby. It is one of mine as well. But you might try reading about a hobby you might take up or an interest you could pursue. My book_____________________________

Health. This is a year that has reminded us we can’t take our health for granted–physical, mental, or spiritual. Read a book for you. It might be to better understand your body and care for it, or perhaps books to help us understand ourselves. Books on the Enneagram have helped been helpful in my own self-understanding. Perhaps you’ve discovered how important resilience is and want to learn how to cultivate that. My book_____________________________

So there’s my challenge. I’ve not recommended particular books because I believe that discovering interesting books in these area for yourself is part of the fun and enrichment of reading that this is all about. I’ve left room for us to fill in our books. I’ll let you know next year how I did and I’d love to hear from any who decide to take up my challenge

Found Between the Pages

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Librarians, booksellers, and those of us who frequent secondhand bookstores and book sales have probably all had the experience of finding “surprises” between the pages of books. I asked those on the Bob on Books Facebook page about the things they found between the pages. That made for some interesting reading and I thought I’d share some of it with you.

Some of the more commonly found items were:

  • pressed flowers or leaves.
  • stamps, envelopes, newspaper clippings.
  • boarding passes and various kinds of tickets, including a Gone With the Wind ticket from a vintage theater.
  • bookmarks–stands to reason.
  • tissues–mostly clean ones fortunately.
  • postcards, holy cards, business cards, and pictures.
  • receipts.
  • money!

This last was interesting. Several reported finding anywhere from $20 to $500 in a book. In the latter case, the $500 was from a father to a daughter who took five years to find a particular book and included $100 for each year. Another found $40 in a book that he remembered had been his emergency bank stash back in the 1970’s that he’d forgotten about. Another forgot about the $40 he put in a library book and received back from an honest librarian. One person found 10 $2 bills, and another currency from Texas in a book on Texas history.

One takeaway from one of the people on the page was to go through your relatives books before disposing of them. It appears that the habit of stashing away money in books and then forgetting it is a widespread one. If you don’t someone else may get a very nice surprise!

There were some more unusual finds:

  • Someone found a toothbrush (fortunately in its package).
  • Several people left ultrasounds in books. One even received a congratulatory card from the book’s new owner!
  • A bank ATM card.
  • Several notes with the same phone number and the message “CALL ME.” Wisely, the new owner of the book didn’t.
  • A guitar pick.
  • A wrapped condom.
  • A book signed by JFK.
  • A mother looking through a son’s book found a nude picture of his girlfriend. I responded “busted!” to which the poster replied, “Yes, she was.”

Perhaps one of the most interesting stories was of someone who bought a box of old books at an auction only to discover that the 1890 invitation to a New Orleans Mardi Gras ball was worth more than the lot of them.

Part of the serendipity of shopping for secondhand books is that you never know what you might find. Usually we are thinking of the books themselves, but sometimes it is the objects one finds between the pages rather than on them. Sometimes we gain a glimpse into the previous owner’s life. Sometimes it is a great old bookmark. And sometimes, what we find may more than pay for the book. It may not be why we shop for secondhand books, but it sure can make them fun!

Stinky Books

No, I’m not talking about books with lousy plots.

I’m talking about books that smell. I’m not talking about that faintly musty smell of “old bookstore” which is the smell of book love for most bibliophiles. Older books do, of their own, give off a smell (VOC’s) as paper and binding material ages.

I’m talking about the smell that makes you and everyone else who walks into the room wrinkle their noses and say, “Ew, what’s that smell.”

It happens. Sometimes we don’t notice it in the store. Some of us don’t have as strong a sense of smell as others and we don’t notice until we get home–or our spouse or partner notices

Sometimes the book smells really musty, probably if it has been stored for some time in a very damp place with little light or air circulation, like in a basement closet against an outer wall. The big thing here is to check the book for mold or mildew. Mold looks like any mold, fuzzy growth on the surface. Mildew is evident by smell and by discolored spots or a powdery flaking layer on the surface of a cover or page. You want to get these away from any other books you value because mold and mildew spread by spores. This kind of damage takes some work, either by you or a conservator, so you will want to decide how valuable the book is. If it is not, your best bet is to discard it–mold and mildew can be harmful to your health. This website offers good tips if you do want to try to conserve these books.

The other big problem is books that have been owned by smokers or by pet owners, particularly cats. I understand. I have a clock from a grandfather who smoked cigars. He died over 40 years ago and I swear I can still smell cigars when I’m up close to that clock.

In a conversation on my book page, and in surveying book pages, it seemed like people found four methods useful in dealing with book smell:

  1. Fresh air and opening the book, fanning the pages. Some suggest sunlight, although the light can yellow the pages or even curl them if damp. Hairdryers can be used to dry and air out a book. I would use this “air books out” method first to make sure the book is not holding any residual dampness.
  2. Some try cleaning the books, with Lysol spray or de-natured alcohol wipes. Of course, you want to be careful not to damage the pages and make sure the book is thoroughly dry.
  3. Others try various scents or sachets of flowers or herbs–or Febreze. I wonder if this only temporarily masks the odor. Dryer sheets between the pages sealed in a food storage bag also is a version of this that may also absorb some odor.
  4. The one that made the most sense in avoiding further damage to the book was using some form of odor absorbent material with the book in a sealed environment. People mention newspapers between pages, sealing the book in food storage bags, or putting books in some sort of sealed bin with anything from baking soda to cornstarch to kitty litter. Some sprinkle cornstarch or baby powder or baking soda between the pages. Some just have it sealed up with the book. Just don’t use the baking soda you’ve had in the fridge. It has already done its job. Get fresh baking soda. Store these in an airtight container for at least three days. Don’t have the books tightly packed but upright, fanning the pages.

If these methods fail, discard the book, unless it is valuable enough either emotionally or monetarily to warrant the cost of a professional conservator. With online searches, many books are replaceable.

There are two other lessons in all this. Unless you are buying online (check on returning books in this case) give any secondhand books a good sniff before you buy them. If the bookseller ask, you can always just claim you love the smell of old books.

The other has to do with your own books. The basic considerations are:

  • Clean. This is the first line of defense against damage. Dust your books periodically.
  • Control moisture and humidity. They should be under 60 percent humidity and stored at around 70 degrees.
  • Circulate air. Some HVAC systems have a continuous fan feature to move air. Fans may also help. Taking books out when you clean and fanning through the pages is also a good idea.

While we may like the smell of old bookstores, we probably don’t want our homes to smell like one. If we have been away for a time and notice a musty smell, it is worth addressing, both for our own health, and for that of our books, especially if we have some stored away. If we think we would like to pass along some portion of our book collection, we want to make sure we are not passing along stinky books. That’s a gift that keeps giving, but not in the way we would like!

What Brings a Reviewer Joy

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I seem to be getting these more often. Requests from an aspiring author to review their book. I just responded to one. I also interact a good deal with authors, publicists, and publishers. There are some things that bring joy to this task.

  1. When the author does their homework and looks at what I review and helps me identify why their book fits my interests. One of the best books I’ve reviewed from an author contact reflected this. She figured out I liked local authors and regional works in the vein of Wendell Berry’s fiction. In most other cases, I turn the author down.
  2. I love to review books from real friends when the book is a work of quality–well-written about things that matter, fiction or non-fiction. It is fun to bring recognition to their work.
  3. It is a joy when a publicist follows what you’ve reviewed and suggests books from their publishing house in a similar vein.
  4. On some days, it is a joy just to get an answer to a request for a review book. Some larger publishers are very good about this. Some small publishers that need to be good at this just aren’t.
  5. What all this gets at is that one likes to be treated with respect. I’ve done this for seven years, built an audience, put thought into my requests, providing information about my platform and interests in the book. In my case I do it for the love of books, and getting the word out about good ones.
  6. I like getting physical books. If the cover is striking or I’ve been looking forward to getting it, I’ll snap a picture of it and post it on social media. I can’t do that with e-books. On social media, a picture of the actual book just looks better and allows me to promote it more than once. I find it easier to review physical books as well.
  7. I don’t expect to be thanked by the author. Reviewing ethically is a bit of an arms-length task. But I do take joy when an author writes to say I represented their book well and accurately. I try hard to do that because I respect the work of writing and re-writing and re-re-writing that goes into a book. I will say that when I have a pleasurable interaction with an author whose work I’ve liked, I’m more inclined to review their next book.
  8. It is a pleasure to come across a book that is well-written and has a degree of originality–it isn’t a rehash of things you’ve read before with a different cover. It is a joy to come across a new author who does that. It doesn’t happen very often.
  9. Above all, I always enjoy learning that someone who has read one of my reviews acquired, read, and enjoyed the book, and shares with me what it meant to them.

Reviewing does involve a certain amount of work, from scanning catalogues and publications to identify books, responding to queries, actually reading the book (I always read it through, sometimes more than once), writing and editing the review, posting it (I post in multiple places with a reach of over 12,000–without shares), and interacting with comments, sometimes providing more information about the book. Mostly, I do it for the intrinsic satisfaction. But authors, publicists, publishers, and readers can greatly add to the joy, as they often do. Mostly, it just comes down to a little respect. Aretha was right.

Books I Keep Talking About

The banner of Andy Unedited

One of the blogs I follow is Andy Unedited. The “unedited” part has to do with his work through most of his career as an editor at a publishing house. He recognizes great writing, and knows how to make it better. So when he wrote a post recently titled Twelve Books I Keep Talking About, I paid attention. He confines his list to books he’s read in the last two years. It’s a great list. There’s one that would be on my list, four others I’ve read, and a few I might look into. But the hook for me was his question at the end of the post: What are the books you keep talking about? I said I might answer in a blog post (never pass up a blog idea!), so here’s my list!

The Crucifixion, by Fleming Rutledge is one on which we agree! It was the most profound theological book I’ve read in ten years, and greatly enriched my Lenten journey a year ago. Review

Write Better, by Andrew T. LePeau, the “Andy” of Andy Unedited. He focuses on the craft, art, and spirituality of writing and the book inspired me to be a better writer. Were it not for Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion, this might have made my best of the year in 2019. It was a Christianity Today Book of the year. Review

Grant, by Ron Chernow. I think each book Chernow writes gets better, and this was magnificent in exploring both the inner man and outward accomplishments of this Union general and president. Grants Memoir is on my must read list after reading him Review

Goshen Road, by Bonnie Proudfoot. This is a first time novel published by a small university press that deserves much greater attention. The writing is exquisite and the story of two sisters in working class families in rural West Virginia was one I couldn’t stop thinking about. Review

Answering the Call, by Nathaniel R. Jones. Jones and I grew up in the same home town of Youngstown. A blog follower said I ought to write about him, and in researching his life, I learned of his memoir, an inspiring story of a persevering pursuit of civil rights from advocacy, to a legal career, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, general counsel of the NAACP, and a judge on the United States Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit. Review

Still Life, by Louise Penny. I’d heard from others how good the Chief Inspector Gamache series is and what a special place is the fictional village of Three Pines. The first book lived up to the praise, and from what I hear, it only gets better. Review

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Finally read this “coming of age” classic this year. It was one of the “books that went to war” in World War 2, reminding many soldiers of the homes and family they left behind. Review

The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by James Cone. Draws a profound connection between Christ’s crucifixion and the lynching of Blacks readily apparent in the Black community, but one whites may be oblivious to. Review

City on a Hill, Abram C. Van Engen. A tour de force historical study of the phrase “city on a hill” from Governor John Winthrop’s sermon in the 1630 down to the present appropriation of the phrase to articulate American exceptionalism. Review

The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah. Like The Nightingale, this book stuck with me when I wasn’t reading it. It is kind of a more toxic fictional version of Tara Westover’s Educated set in the beauty of the wilds of Alaska. Review

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, by David W. Blight. Another magnificent biography of the escaped slave who became the greatest black orator, writer and activist of the nineteenth century. Review

Perfectly Human, Sarah C. Williams. An exquisitely written personal narrative of a couple facing a pre-natal diagnosis of fatal birth defects, their decision to carry their daughter to term, their process with family and friends, and the larger issues their own decision raised for them. Review

Well, Andy, there is a dozen to match yours, at least in number. As I put this list together, I realized that these really have been books I’ve talked about, and I’ve enjoyed the chance to do so once more, to give a shout-out for the books, and to remember the great pleasure each gave in a dozen unique ways. Thanks for the question, Andy. Hope you find something on this list, and between the two of us, we gave people 23 books to consider (one in common). Happy reading my friend!

Books and the United States Postal Service

mail-truck-3248139_1280

Image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay

I should begin with a couple disclaimers. First of all, I’m writing about a situation in the United States and I know there are those reading from other countries. I hope your situation is better, and if it is, you are welcome to gloat! Second, I do not want to get into the politics around funding of the postal service with regard to the upcoming election. I’ve made my own decisions in this regard and written to my elected officials. You don’t need to hear my thoughts in that regard.

Nor do you need an analysis from me of why the USPS faces the financial woes they are facing. Certainly, in recent years, and especially in the pandemic, first class mail has declined precipitously, a major revenue stream. Some have even suggested we all go out and buy a sheet of stamps to help the post office’s cash flow. But I don’t have the accounting background or time to delve into postal service financials–an issue that is complicated and debated. One of the challenges is that the USPS, since 1971, is supposed to be, by law, self-sustaining without taxpayer funding.

The health of the postal service affects not only our elections but many sectors of commerce in our country from the delivery of prescription drugs, many Amazon packages and as the last leg of delivery of many items to homes and businesses. The access to these services throughout the country is especially significant in many rural locations, not always served by other shippers.

The book world is crucially reliant on the USPS. One of the particular benefits the USPS offers is Media Mail, and a closely related service for libraries, Library Mail. These programs allow the shipping of books, sound recordings, printed music, and other educational media to the public, and between libraries and educational institutions at reduced rates. Have you used inter-library loan to get a book, available to you at no cost? Your library likely used Library Mail.  Begun in 1936, the Media Mail program recognized the importance of the flow of educational information and the free flow of ideas.

During the pandemic, when most bookstores were (or are) closed, Media Mail has allowed for the shipping of books by independent booksellers, chains, and even Amazon, at lower costs, playing an important part in sustaining jobs and income, and providing books to so many of us under stay-at-home orders, or voluntarily self-isolating because of risk.

In addition, Media Mail is used for book giveaways, advanced review copies to reviewers, book boxes which have become increasingly popular, and various bookswapping sites. In a BookRiot article one bookstore selling a $27 book indicated that it would cost $24 to ship the book via UPS, $14 via Fed Ex, and $3 via Media Mail. It may be necessary to raise these costs, but it would likely come at the expense of many of the programs mentioned here, at the expense of book sales, and maybe some booksellers. “Just get it at Amazon?”  That is an option, but realize that for many, you pay $119 annually, the equivalent of the shipping cost for roughly 40 books, and depending on shipping arrangements, it still may be the USPS delivering that book to your mailbox.

It’s clear there are problems with the business model of the USPS that I personally think best resolved after the elections, while ensuring the timely delivery of absentee ballots to voters and their boards of elections. For those of us who love books, bookstores, libraries and other aspects of the book trade, how these problems are resolved are important, particularly while we are under pandemic conditions. Media Mail and Library Media provisions historically were made to facilitate the flow of educational materials and ideas and have helped small booksellers with their businesses. Those who value these provisions should watch whatever measures are taken.

Book FOMO

black and white books education facts

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I figured it out. There is this weird phenomena for many of us who love books. We tend to acquire more books than we can possibly read in our lifetimes. There’s even a Japanese word for this, tsundoku. I’ve puzzled why we do that. Or to get more personal, why do I do that?

I think it comes down, at least in part for me, to fear of missing out (FOMO). I read a review of an interesting book. I learn of a book that addresses a question I’m interested in. I see a list of recommended books, or a footnote in a book I’m reading. My wife tells me about a book she’s heard about that is interesting. A book I’ve heard about turns up in a used book store, or at a low price on Amazon Kindle (usually $2.99 or less for me). I see a forthcoming book that looks interesting and request it for review.

I don’t want to miss out on a chance to read any of these great books. I rationalize this with the thought that I may get around to reading the book someday. For books I’ve identified for review, I usually do, since publishers don’t like to send out books to reviewers who don’t review their books. For others, I may end up pulling them out if they relate to a subject I want to read up on, or if they strike my fancy.

But that also means I literally have boxes of stored books acquired in years past, and it is increasingly unlikely that I will get to many of these unless the pandemic goes on for years (which none of us want!). Every one of those books was acquired for some reason of interest–I’d like to read about that, and want to have the book at hand. Alas, newer acquisitions pushed older ones aside into boxes, stored away in a closet.

As it happens, that closet is probably the best place to shelter in our home in the event of severe storms or tornado warnings we get a few times a year. We’ve agreed that those boxes of books must go, along with stacks of books I have read but don’t need to keep. It’s tough though–I can imagine doing the Marie Kondo thing and end up discovering that they all give me joy. I may do better if I don’t open the boxes and just haul them away.

The truth is, I will miss out. I can’t read all the books in my own house within my likely remaining years, let alone the new books that will come out in years ahead and all the wonderful books that have been published that I don’t have. The antidote to my FOMO, oddly enough, is coming to terms with my mortality. It means accepting that God may be all-knowing, but I never will be. One of the comforts of my faith in everlasting life will be the chance to keep learning in whatever form that might take.

Hopefully, this will make me wiser in the new books I acquire. I do find myself asking more often “will I really read that?” The pandemic has helped in limiting some of the sources of lots of cheap books like library book sales and used bookstores.

Where I’d like to get to, and haven’t yet, is to reach the point where I don’t look at those book stacks and feel, “I’ve got to read all those books!” (so now you know the shape of my OCD!). It may be that making some of the stacks disappear will help. Perhaps it is applying a principle of relationships with people to books: if you are thinking about any other book than the book you are with, you are not with any of your books. A spiritual lesson I’ve been learning is to be present in the present rather than somewhere else. When I fear missing out, I’m taking away from the enjoyment of the book I’m reading right now. Perhaps with the uncertainty of the present time, it is not a bad thing to live in “right now.” With the book I’m reading. In my comfortable chair. With a coffee at my side. In those moments, I’m not missing out at all.

Could That Backyard Shed Become Your Reading Retreat?

Library Shed

Library Shed, Source: iVillage

Many of us readers share a house with people we love. Love is nurtured in conversations, the sharing of household chores, and if we are parents with children, caring for those children. All important, and hard to do, and read at the same time.

Some of our homes are too small to get away and read, isolated from family life. Either one gets up early in the morning, or hides out in the bathroom. We dream of sitting rooms, dens, and “man caves.”

Another solution is gaining popularity. A number of people are looking at the humble backyard shed and turning it into a retreat. Women have created a “She Shed” movement captured on a number of episodes of the Today show. Here’s an early one on how “she sheds” have become the alternative to the man cave.

Bibliophiles have noticed. Gail A. Sisolak portrays some drop-dead gorgeous back yard sheds turned into libraries that includes the image featured above. One “he shed” in this blog post has over 12,000 volumes–in a shed! Others combine one’s library with comfort and beauty–light and good seating within, and a beautiful garden outside the shed door and windows.

I haven’t seen anything about sheds in northern climates or humid climates. We don’t tend to think about heating, cooling, and de-humidifying sheds, but for comfort and avoiding mustiness, library shed owners have to think about such things, unless it is just a seasonal retreat.

Some people are do-it-yourselfers. One of the bestselling books on building sheds is She Sheds: A Room of Your Own. There are sequels to this book, how to’s from companies like Black and Decker and more. There are a number of instructional videos and websites online.

Or you can go the store-bought route. There are rock bottom priced tiny sheds available at big box stores for $600. Most run between $2,000 and $8,000. You still want to see whether these are pre-assembled or whether “some assembly is required.”

Whichever route you go, you will need to think about climate control for both you and your books, something not included in most utility sheds. Then there are questions of shelving, carpeting, lighting and seating and other amenities. But you’ve probably been dreaming about what you’d do if you have such space.

Before you start your project there are a few sign offs. One is your family–it is the kind of expenditure everyone has to agree on, maybe with some discussion of how the family will share this retreat. The other is your local zoning and building permitting regulations, which differ from place to place.

With the pandemic, we are spending more time at home than usual, more time around each other. More space, particularly for a quiet hour of reading, may be a gift for family members who are tired of overhearing Zoom calls or need to get away from streamed videos. It’s a way to buy a bit more space for everyone and perhaps a bit more storage space for your books. Maybe this is the year you build your library shed.