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Every Inch Is Needed

October 3, 2013

Christina writes: One of the most important parts of our home renovation in 2007 was work undertaken to make our basement dry and to add (as we mentioned on introducing this blog) several hundred linear feet of new bookshelves. These were a welcome safety valve in particular for our ‘Tolkien library’ – once, and still at a pinch, a dining room – where our collection of Tolkien’s works was stuffed, too tight for safekeeping and in places double-shelved, into seven large bookcases, seven feet high by three feet wide. Once our ‘stacks’ became available, we moved to the basement a section of Tolkien in translation, thereby gaining space in the library for English-language editions. Works from A Middle English Vocabulary to The Lord of the Rings then occupied the four bookcases on the west wall, and subsequent titles, periodicals, etc. were kept in the three bookcases on the east wall.

Tolkien shelvesThis was not as straightforward as it might seem. As far as possible, we try to shelve Tolkien’s books in the order used in Wayne’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography: that is, divided into books by Tolkien, books to which Tolkien contributed or which he edited or translated, periodical contributions, published letters, published art, and miscellaneous, arranged in each section chronologically by title, edition, and printing. (Translations of Tolkien’s works into foreign languages are a section unto themselves, arranged by language.) But unless one has the endless shelves of Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Library, eventually any organizing system for an active, growing collection has to give way to division also by size. Our Tolkien library bookcases have six adjustable shelves, i.e. seven shelves including the bottom one, and enough height that, in general, only the tallest books have to be removed from strict order; but at the same time, for The Lord of the Rings and boxed sets of that work with The Hobbit, following the Bibliography order creates runs of several feet of mass-market paperbacks (e.g. Ballantine editions) or of Allen & Unwin (and successors) one-volume paperbacks, and because these volumes are relatively short, in two bookcases we have been able to insert an extra shelf.

After our rearrangement of the collection at the end of 2007, there was a comfortable amount of empty space in the Tolkien library, and one empty shelf between The Hobbit and Farmer Giles of Ham seemed a reasonable allowance for growth for The Hobbit, since all separate editions of that work published since 1937 occupied just under five shelves. But as new editions have been issued during the last six years, that spare shelf has been almost filled, and there are more books to come in conjunction with the second and third Hobbit films; and although we still had two empty shelves at the end of our Lord of the Rings section (down from three and a half in 2007), more boxed sets will be published soon, so using this space for Hobbit expansion didn’t seem a particularly good solution. In any case, I knew that it would be a major task indeed to move the Lord of the Rings section a shelf forward without breaking up the multiple sequences described in the Bibliography. I also disliked the idea of moving just one shelf of The Hobbit to the end, and moving the section of Farmer Giles of Ham would not provide much space.

bamboo shelvesThen a few days ago, we were wondering what to do with two small bamboo shelving units we had had in the kitchen but no longer wanted there. These were made to be hung on a bedroom or bathroom wall (I had them in my flat in London), and for only lightweight storage on shelves with low clearance. It occurred to me, though, that they might fit well in one particular spot on the north wall of the Tolkien library, and that they would be suitable for mass market paperbacks on the lower shelves and taller (but relatively lightweight) books on the open top shelf. Ballantine editions of The Lord of the Rings were an obvious candidate; but as there was enough space for only part of the Ballantine run, I chose the later issues, from the introduction of cover illustrator Darrell K. Sweet in 1981, leaving the earlier printings with the main run in our big bookcases, preceding the Allen & Unwin second edition. The removal of the Sweet editions from the second bookcase on the west wall left enough space to move some editions of The Lord of the Rings from the bottom shelf of the first bookcase to the top shelf of the second (Ace Books) and to the taller third shelf (some Allen & Unwin first editions and Houghton Mifflin first editions). Farmer Giles of Ham and other Allen & Unwin first editions moved to the bottom shelf. At the other end of The Lord of the Rings, there are now three empty shelves.

To make room for future issues of Tolkien Studies, I removed the run of Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review from one of the low bookcases under the library’s bow window and placed it on the top shelf of one of the bamboo bookcases. No doubt there will be more Ballantine editions to go in this case as new cover issues appear. In the meantime, we’ve gained some space for more copies of The Hobbit – for a while. Already there are two U.K. editions illustrated by Jemima Catlin waiting to be listed, and the U.S. edition of the Catlin Hobbit is in the post.

Images, top to bottom: Two of our large ‘Tolkien library’ bookcases, with a little room for more copies of The Hobbit (the drapes are a William Morris fabric, ‘Pomegranate’ (or ‘Fruit’); the framed drawing is by Pauline Baynes for Smith of Wootton Major); the relocated bamboo bookcases with relocated books (the decorated tobacco jar, a gift from René van Rossenberg, contains Tolkien-related buttons).

  1. chris anderson permalink
    October 3, 2013 9:43 am

    I always enjoy the photos of your collections (plantings as well as books). My own, consisting primarily of Tolkien’s own writings, is smaller than your collection of “Hobbit”s alone!

  2. October 4, 2013 12:00 am

    Looking good! And nice to see VII on your shelves as well. 😉 Truly, well-ordered book shelves are a thing of beauty, and I mean that with all my heart.

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