When I was a little girl, my favorite room in our house was my father’s library. We lived in a typical 1960s suburban subdivision, where every third house had the same floor plan, but my father had taken our dining room for his own. He was a lawyer by day, but a craftsman by night, and he lined its walls with shelves that he filled with a literary treasure trove. I learned to love books in that room, where I read Dostoyevsky and Dickens, Louisa May Alcott and Jane Austen, Bruce Catton’s histories of the Civil War, J.R.R. Tolkien, Patrick O’Brian, Dick Francis, Joseph Heller, Mark Twain, Ross MacDonald, John le Carre, Shakespeare, Ray Bradbury….my father’s tastes were wide and deep, and I couldn’t have gotten a better literary education at any college than the one I got within those four walls.
So, twelve years ago, when my husband and I bought our “forever” home — a small Victorian in Mill Valley, California — I asked my father if he would build me a library of my own. He was retired by then, and living twelve hours away in Boise Idaho, but he said yes. I didn’t realize at the time what a massive undertaking this would be. It took two years, thousands of hours of work, and numerous trips between Boise and Mill Valley in an old Subaru crammed with shelving, paneling, hand tools, routers, a massive table saw, and a springer spaniel named Corky.
First, he made cherry panels for the back wall. He made them in his garage workshop in Boise, then drove them to Mill Valley and installed them perfectly around an old stained glass window I found at an antique store. (Mom helped, of course. So did Corky.)
Next, he made the shelves. I bought scores of cherry 1×8 boards, and he lived in our house for ten days at a time, sawing and hammering, amassing a foot and a half of sawdust. The walls in our old house are almost twelve feet high, so there were a lot of shelves. But I’d been collecting books for twenty years, lugging them in boxes from apartment to apartment. They needed to roam free.
Then, just to complicate matters, I found a bunch of old tin ceiling tiles at a flea market, and decided I had to have them. Surely, I thought, it wouldn’t be too much trouble to put them in my library. I stripped off the peeling white paint and spray-painted them gold, and Dad and I put them up together. Twice. The first time, they were one solitary but critical inch off center.
The baseboards and ceiling molding — which Dad made himself, naturally — and the wallpaper came last. Then we stained and varnished everything until it was a deep, warm cherry brown.
Now, this beautiful room is my favorite room in the house:
I do most of my writing on its comfortable couch, or at the rolltop desk he made me from an antique church organ. I’m surrounded by many of the books that inspired me as a child, and there is a place on the shelves — between A.B. Yehoshua and Carlos Diaz Zafon — where my own book will someday sit. But what inspires me most about this space is the always-present spirit of my father, whose heart and soul infuse every panel and every shelf of this paradise he made for me, and who, at this moment, is sitting in his own library in Boise, reading Middlemarch, the current book in our book club of two.
Because somehow, we both missed that one.
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