This little bit of fiction was created for the “TBR Pile Challenge” from D. Wallace Peach. Writing fiction on demand, as it were, is not easy for me. However, I do enjoy it when I have a subject that suits me. I have been working on some serious fiction projects, and I am finding it easier to dig in when challenged. Thanks to Diana for a prompt that bounces between two things I enjoy – reading and woodworking.
On Top of the Basket
After a loud knock to let me know she was coming, in case I was using a power tool, she enter the shop. She had brought me a new cup of coffee, but her expression told me there was more to this visit.
“Here, I figured your coffee was gone or cold…” She blew a small pile of sawdust off the top of my to-go cup. “…or worse. I thought you finished the project you were working on, what are you working on now?”
The question was valid, but I wasn’t eager to explain because I wanted this to be a surprise. Not a gift, just a surprise.
“I’m building a bookcase.”
“Oooh, nice. I can always use another bookcase.”
Sigh. That didn’t go well. My fear was being ridiculed for continuing the futile effort of corralling the piles of books I had stashed all over the house. Now I had to explain that this bookcase was for me.
“Well, if you want another bookcase, you have to design it yourself. This one is a custom job and will only fit in one place.”
Her curiosity was piqued. “And what place is that?”
“The open area along the wall next to my side of the bed.”
“In front of your nightstand?”
I could see the gears turning. Shared spaces, including the perimeter of the bed were no place for unilateral design decisions. I had been hoping to build this and install it without any discussion. Once met with the inevitable “where did that come from?” it would be too late to derail the project.
“But you already have a bookcase on that wall, in front of your nightstand.”
“Not really in front…”
“OK, in front of your waste basket which is in front of your nightstand.”
“Exactly! The waste basket I can’t empty because there’s a pile of books on it.”
I was trying to move this conversation along a simple direct path, with no logical offramps or other such costly detours.”
“Well, if you’re planning to replace the waste basket with a bookcase, I have to tell you, I’m happier looking at a pile of books on a waste basket than a pile of used Kleenex on a bookcase.”
The project at this point was merely a collection of boards, nothing I could use as a visual aid. I picked up a pad of quadrille lined paper.
“You’re not going to draw, are you?”
“I thought an illustration would help.”
“An illustration would. Lines, erasures and cross-outs overlaid on something barely resembling a box isn’t going to help as much as you hope.”
That was fair, albeit a bit of an exaggeration. My illustrations do require an active imagination. She was way ahead of me. Before I could sketch a meaningful shape, she countered.
“You know, there’s an easier solution.”
“Put the books away. We have other bookcases. Most are full, but some have a little open space.”
I had to make her understand. These weren’t ordinary books. At least these weren’t books that go on ordinary shelves.
“This is my to-be-read pile. I move books to my other bookcases after I read them.”
“To-be-read? You have like forty books on that waste basket. When are you expecting to read them?”
“Soon. In fact, I’m currently reading several books in the pile.”
“Well, there’s your problem. You should read one book at a time. When you’re finished, put it away on a different bookcase. Work the pile down.”
This was going off the rails. Instead of a discussion of the bookcase design, now we were beginning to argue over how to read.
“I don’t read like that. I like having options.”
“I might be in the mood for fantasy, or historical fiction, or perhaps something funny. Then again, I might want to read some non-fiction…”
She interrupted. “Like that two-inch thick tome chronicling the history of the Jeep?”
“You mean ‘Warbaby?’ You bought me that book. It’s fascinating. Did you know the first prototype of the Jeep was built in Pittsburgh? Not that far from where I grew up?”
“No, but I know the book is a foot wide and four hundred pages. I mean, how much can you say about the history of one car?”
I never see the warning signs telling me to ignore rhetorical questions.
“First off, the subject of the book isn’t a car. It’s the Jeep used during World War Two. Second, it went through a long period of development. Third, and perhaps most important, the width and thickness of the book makes it the ideal bottom book for the pile.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, I wanted them back.
“Which means you’ll never finish it! In order to read that book, you have to get out of bed, move all the other books, at which point you’d realize you should empty the waste basket. By the time you’d be ready to read the book, I’d want the lights off.”
“That’s why I’m building this bookcase.” I decided to reinforce my plans by moving the project into the present tense. “I need to be able to access any book – and the waste basket – any time I want.”
She looked confused. I think I had her logic on the run.
“Wait. The bookcase is going to incorporate the waste basket. Or are you sliding everything down?”
The bookcase is going to stand over the waste basket. I’ll be able to slip it in and out to use or empty. Then three simple shelves for books.”
“Three shelves? How tall is this thing going to be?”
“Not that tall. The bottom shelf will be for wide books, like ‘Warbaby’ and Brad Lewis’ coffee table books. The next…”
She was regaining her focus. “You already read all four of Brad’s coffee table books. Why don’t you move them to a different bookcase?”
“They’re fun to reread. Now, If I can continue…”
“You’re drawing again. Why are you drawing? It’s not going to help.”
“If I can continue, it might. See, the bottom shelf is wide, but not very tall. The next shelf is for nine-inch books I buy from Amazon.”
“Correct. And Brad’s non-coffee table books.”
She rolled her eyes. “How many times are you going to read Celebrity Gangster?”
“If I can continue. The top shelf will be a little shorter, for those random books I pick up at tag sales.”
“Where does the box of Kleenex go?”
“On top, with my iPad.”
Again, as soon as the word escaped my lips, I realized the mistake I had made.
“Speaking of which, except for the stuff you pick up at tag sales, you can read all of those books on your iPad – you have the Kindle App, right?”
“It’s not the same.”
“Right, it’s thin and light and there’s no danger of it falling over and crushing the cat when she tries to jump up. I see your point.”
This was getting out of hand. I only had one argument left.
“Don’t you have an identical waste basket on your side of the bed?”
“So, how ’bout I make two of these?”
“Can I have a drawer in mine?”
The conversation is fiction. The books and the authors are real and worth reading and following. As are the books by our host D. Wallace Peach. A healthy to-be-read pile just means you’re the kind of person who plans for the future. When I was searching for the books, I stumbled on the bunny from summer.