The books pile up and so do the excuses

Returning home late at night, I unlocked my apartment door and was shocked to find books scattered on the living room floor. Had the apartment been burglarized? Nothing so dramatic. A pile of books had toppled over from its own weight.

My apartment is awash with books, a testament to a penchant for both literature and clutter. With no cellar or attic – those safety nets for ownership excess – with not even a storage bin in the apartment house basement, books continue to pile up.

My books are in disarray, with no alphabetical or subject matter coherence. It was not always so. A few years ago, when the apartment was about to be painted and before I departed for three nights in a hotel, I asked the doorman to place all the books – shelved and unshelved – in the center of the living room floor, safe from being splattered by paint. He did so and later reshelved them on a first-to-come-to-hand basis. Hence the disorder.

"Toss some books out," suggests a friend. Oh, how little you understand the acquisitive habits of an addicted reader! The word "de-accession" is not part of my vocabulary.

Another friend advises, "Put your books in order." I contain myself from bursting out, "And why don't you straighten out the mess in your closets?" Tasks such as these – closet cleaning, book sorting – are much contemplated, but rarely performed.

Disorder seems a part of my life. On the floor by the fireplace, there always will be piles of books, along with a wooden lobster buoy I found on the Maine coast, an Indian copper pitcher, and my bicycle helmet.

And book piles will continue to rival the height of the mantle, where also may be found a home run baseball from Yankee Stadium; a boomerang; a bottle containing sand from the Syrian desert; a bust of Richard Wagner; a photograph of Tolstoy; a cloth camel from Egypt; pewter candlesticks from Mother's dining room table; a flag from Public School 112 in Brooklyn where I served as principal for a day; my godson's creation, a clay gargoyle given to me 20 years ago; and the facsimile of a key made in 1812 for the door of New York's City Hall.

I don't fret about the disorder. Rather than spending too much time searching for a favorite book, I go out and buy another copy.

But I have one concern: Jenny, my sister's cat. She stays with me when her family is traveling. Jenny is a leaper, bounding from floor to windowsill to kitchen counter with ease. Were she to leap on a pile of books, she would bring it down. I could never forgive myself if Jenny were crushed by the 29 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th edition, 1910).

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