Those Many Books

My good friends, bestselling authors Michael and Kathleen Gear, recently posted a photo on Twitter of their 32,000-volume home library. At the time of this writing on February 1, it was trending to the tune of 4.1 million views and thousands of retweets.

Sparked by people’s fascination with such a massive personal library, comments came fast and furious, to the point that digital fistfights broke out and trolls attacked the couple for a variety of bizarre reasons including, “why do you have so many that you can’t possibly read all of them?”

I’ll answer that one for the Gears. “Because they wanted them.”

But thousands were envious and climbed upon their own ramparts of books to repel the attacks and support the couple and their collection.

I’m a reader and collector as well. We moved into our new house four years ago and I contracted with a master cabinetmaker to build bookcases in my office. The polished cherry built-ins reach twelve feet high, wrap around two walls, and the builder constructed a ladder and rail system to reach the upper shelves. He said it was the tallest cabinetry he’d ever designed to hold the weight of so many books.

It is a dream library, though I fall far short of the Gear’s 32,000 mark. Conservatively, I’d estimate my book collection might reach upwards of 5,000, mostly hardback volumes. Lacking enough shelf space even now, some are still packed away in an old quilt box built by my great granddaddy. They’re also scattered throughout the house on bookshelves, barrister bookcases, on other shelves and cabinets.

And yes, I’ve read them all except for those on my TBR stack. I’ve even written a few that are properly alphabetized, that take up almost an entire shelf.

The first paperback books that started my first adult collection came from a married couple, Don and Sally, who lived around the corner when I was in high school. Of course I had a library card, and I’d like to think I was one of the most prolific readers who ever checked books out of the Pleasant Grove Public Library, but I wanted my own.

Don loved westerns and gave me my first Louis L’Amour novels. He bought them for a few cents off a rack at the Rexall, read them, and passed them on to me, after Sally first made sure there wasn’t anything in them that high schoolers shouldn’t read.

But for high school boys, hope springs eternal to find some of those words and scenes Sally worried about. In my case, however, they didn’t show up in anything that came from that generous couple. I had to read The Dirty Dozen (1965) to finally see the “F” word in print, the word “whore” in Drums Along the Mohawk, (1936) and the mild sex scenes in Harold Robbins’ novels (1960s and 70s), that made me go “humm.”

Today there’s a huge push here in the Lone Star State to remove such books from school library shelves, and that kind of book burning nonsense is starting to worry me, because books have been a source of information and entertainment since I was a little critter. Honestly, I don’t need low-level politicians tell me or anyone else what to read.

My first real salaried position was working as a page in the Dallas Casa View Branch library, and shelving books was the best job I ever had. Reporting for work after school, then college, was never tedious, and at least once a week I told myself that someday I’d have my own personal library. Many of those books with bad words in them.

I’ve collected ever since, and prefer physical books over eBooks. For a while there, as Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and a host of other mom and pop outlets closed their doors to the behemoth Barnes and Noble, I thought bookstores might be a thing of the past.

When B&N bulldozed whole sections in their stores and filled them with big empty tables holding a few tablets, the end seemed inevitable. Physical books might be going the way of the dinosaurs. Good lord, my personal library might be a museum piece before long.

But now stores are coming back, and the market has steadied between eReaders and books. Now the Twitter comments on the Gear library make me wonder. Why is that people can’t believe some of us have our own libraries. And why not? Amazon will sometimes deliver them right to your door only hours after you order them.

It pleases me to look up at the books I’ve collected for the past fifty-plus years. No, I won’t read most of them again, but the familiar titles and covers are my security blanket full of memories filled with the pleasant recollections of the stories between those covers.

There are collections by Robert Ruark, Donald Westlake, William C. Anderson, Douglas Jones, Edward Abbey, and Bill Bryson that I’ve gone back and re-read. Other authors who’ve become friends are there, as well as a collection of first editions by the King himself. I still read his old stuff now and then.

I have books by Owen West, Brian Coffey and Leigh Nicols that make me grin, for those are the early pen names of Mr. Dean Koontz.

Other single titles have sustained me through the years when things looked to be spinning out of control. Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis by Howell Raines was a gift from the Bride who knows all things. My Health is Better in November, by Havilah Babcock and anything by Mr. Gene Hill were there when things became bleak.

I still go back and read The Old Man and the Boy by Robert C. Ruark. Talk about comfort food (books) for the soul.

This personal library is a close friends= my kids will have to deal with when the Bride and I are gone, but with one daughter who is a high school librarian, and another who understands personal belongings that are important to us, they’ll know what to do.

So with that said, here are some questions for the hive mind.

Why the big hubbub about the Gear’s personal library?

How big is your personal library?

Are there authors whose works have been instrumental to your personal career or well-being?

And finally, which authors were the foundations of your own writing or reading world?

So with that, happy reading!


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About Reavis Wortham

Two time Spur Award winning author Reavis Z. Wortham pens the Texas Red River historical mystery series, and the high-octane Sonny Hawke contemporary western thrillers. His new Tucker Snow series begins in 2022. The Red River books are set in rural Northeast Texas in the 1960s. Kirkus Reviews listed his first novel in a Starred Review, The Rock Hole, as one of the “Top 12 Mysteries of 2011.” His Sonny Hawke series from Kensington Publishing features Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke and debuted in 2018 with Hawke’s Prey. Hawke’s War, the second in this series won the Spur Award from the Western Writers Association of America as the Best Mass Market Paperback of 2019. He also garnered a second Spur for Hawke’s Target in 2020. A frequent speaker at literary events across the country. Reavis also teaches seminars on mystery and thriller writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to writing conventions, to the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC. He frequently speaks to smaller groups, encouraging future authors, and offers dozens of tips for them to avoid the writing pitfalls and hazards he has survived. His most popular talk is entitled, My Road to Publication, and Other Great Disasters. He has been a newspaper columnist and magazine writer since 1988, penning over 2,000 columns and articles, and has been the Humor Editor for Texas Fish and Game Magazine for the past 25 years. He and his wife, Shana, live in Northeast Texas. All his works are available at your favorite online bookstore or outlet, in all formats. Check out his website at “Burrows, Wortham’s outstanding sequel to The Rock Hole combines the gonzo sensibility of Joe R. Lansdale and the elegiac mood of To Kill a Mockingbird to strike just the right balance between childhood innocence and adult horror.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “The cinematic characters have substance and a pulse. They walk off the page and talk Texas.” —The Dallas Morning News On his most recent Red River novel, Laying Bones: “Captivating. Wortham adroitly balances richly nuanced human drama with two-fisted action, and displays a knack for the striking phrase (‘R.B. was the best drunk driver in the county, and I don’t believe he run off in here on his own’). This entry is sure to win the author new fans.” —Publishers Weekly “Well-drawn characters and clever blending of light and dark kept this reader thinking of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.” —Mystery Scene Magazine

32 thoughts on “Those Many Books

  1. My father’s house had a room we called “the den.” Some would have called it “the library.” The north and east walls had bookcases built by Mr. Florido. The south wall had built-in shelves constructed by Mr. Leo Nyre. On the west wall was a heavy, tall, glazed Italian bookcase, possibly 18th century. I figured the total number of books in the den at about 3,500. The 4400 sq.ft. house was sold in 1963 and the collection went in various directions over the years that followed.

    Our living room today has floor-to-ceiling shelves on both sides of the fireplace. Smaller bookcases are here and there around the house. I’ve never counted the books and have no interest in doing so. We still have the 1926 Britannica, as well as a 1963 edition, some of my old SF books, and so on. A few Christmas presents, taken from beneath the tree, unwrapped, then slid onto a shelf and forgotten.

    • I don’t know anyone who has a book-free house. I think they warm a home and reflect the personalities of those who live there.

      Thanks for weighing in!

  2. Memorable books in my life would include:
    Heinlein’s Space Cadet
    L. Sprague deCamp’s Science Fiction Handbook,
    Fireside Book of Chess, by Irving Chernev,
    The World of Null-A, by A.E. vanVogt,
    Enemies are Human, by Reinhold Pabel
    Flatland, by A.A Abbott,
    Corporal Crow, by M. Priskey
    Winnie the Pooh, by Milne
    Freddy and the Bean Home News, by Walter Brooks
    Paddle to the Sea, by Holling Clancy Holling
    Tree in the Trail, ditto
    Gods, Graves, & Scholars, by C. W. Ceram
    I Married Adventure, by Osa Johnson
    Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, Wise & Fraser, eds.

    I had to look up a couple of authors, but recalled all the others.

  3. We are in the house we’re in because of the bookshelves covering 3 walls in the front room all around the windows.

    I like e-books for traveling and library books, but I want my keepers in print. We live in hurricane country and real books don’t have batteries that run down, thank goodness.

    I love Dean Koontz, Dick Francis, Sophie Kinsella, Erma Bombeck. My favorite book is Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground about the Lippizan stallions. I read it for the first time when I was in high school or college. Reading it again now. Still love it. Also have a copy of Ballet Shoes, one of my favorite books from childhood.

    Your bookshelves sound wonderful.

    • Your list brought to mind several authors I didn’t list. Thanks for reminding me of Bombeck, which makes me think of Lewis Grizzard, Pat McManus and Betty McDonald.

  4. I only have around a thousand paper books but I’m not a collector. I constantly recycle books I’ve read and don’t expect to read again (or wish I hadn’t read the first time) through the free book box outside the post office or through Friends of the Library.

    Influences (and books that remain in my library) include fictionists Asimov, Bradbury, James Lee Burke, Raymond Chandler, Lee Child, Hammett, Heinlein, Hemingway, Jack Higgins, Stephen King, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (the SF stuff), and poets Frost, Nemerov, Owen, Parker, Sassoon, Yeats, and a few others who were or are at the top of their field.

  5. Rev, I have at this point sold/donated more books than I currently have but still possess a fair number. Keeper authors include James Lee Burke, Elmore Leonard, Cormac McCarthy, (early) Stephen King, and Raymond Chandler, among others. Oh, and do comic books count? Thousands.

    When someone archly asks me how many of something I have would be enough, my response is, “A couple more.”

    Have a great weekend, Rev!

    • I still have a stack of well-read comics. Too old and wrinkled to be worth anything, but they bring back great memories and led me down the path to “real books.”

    • Yes, comics count. I remember the “Classics Illustrated” comic books. They introduced us to famous works in brief form. But we also had quite a few of the lesser sort.

  6. I never approached any of these volumes of volumes, but I did grow up in a house with bookcases in nearly every room, full to overflowing with books ranging from aviation to zoology – and not just because we had encyclopedia (including one set Pop won in high school on the only day he played hooky)…

    As I move out of the house and set up housekeeping of my own, I did much the same thing re: library building, amassing works by Asimov, Bradbury, Brautigan, Clark, Rand, Herbert, MacDonald, Flemming, Steinbeck, Hemmingway, etc. and so on… however, because my housekeeping became OUR housekeeping, a grand culling resulted in many – most – being donated to the Friends of the Library and sometimes sold used book stores (which usually resulted in a few new-to-me books going back to the newly emptied shelf space).

    There are many I wish I still had for sentimental as well as pleasurable reading reasons… and my OCD laments the (physical) loss of some complete works collections…

    Similarly, vinyl records – again, not a lot by some standards, but still about 1,500 – a chore to store and move, alphabetical by artist and chronological by release, and the complete vinyl releases of some bands ranging from Buffett to the Grateful Dead, Fogelburg to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes (see OCD above) – and I can take you to the first one I bought years ago (Brothers and Sisters by the Allman Brothers), and in many ways, the sentimental value – the comfort sounds and visuals are so grounding….

    And in a newsletter this morning was a story of a German gent with 70,000 volumes – some even “shelved” on the ceiling… here’s the link…

    • Oh, the vinyl I had. Over have of an extensive collection vanished in a divorce, but I added many back through the years and the Bride and I often have vinyl night!

      • We had a great collection of vinyl–Muddy Waters, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis. I cried when I set the mobile home we lived in on fire and they were destroyed. (It was an accident!) My tastes tend to run more to classical now.

  7. That’s amazing! I used to have about 3000 books but donated more than a thousand to the Studio City Library. It got to a point where they told me to stop bringing books.😂😂🚗.

    • Can’t bring myself to sort with any book. My daughters have instructions not to sell them to any used bookstores all at once. Get them priced by professionals.

  8. Love this post so much, Rev. Growing up, libraries were magical places filled with book treasures for me as well. No surprise then that I went to work at one after college, and turned that into a career.

    My grade school held book fairs which felt like Christmas. When I met my future wife at job we both held in high school, one of the things that attracted to me to her was her love for books. Our house is full of them, with floor to ceiling book shelves in our living room, her craft room and my writing office. One wall of that office has custom book shelves (visible behind me in my WordPress photo).

    So many authors in our fiction have influenced me: Poul Anderson, Jim Butcher, C.J. Cherryh, Glen Cook, Michael Moorcock, Jack Vance, and many more too many to count, and that’s just in science fiction and fantasy. Mystery includes Laurie King, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and more. I still have my mother’s complete (at the time of her death 1988) collection of Louis L’Amour. We probably have at least 3000 titles here, which also include non-fiction.

    Our eBook collection is over a thousand books now.

  9. People nowadays just need a reason to fight. Some might be environmentalists, others Marie Condoists (made that up), Others just spend their lives trolling others.

    I loved books growing up, but the fact that my family moved a lot coupled with my mother’s extreme nonsentimentality meant I hardly have any of my childhood books. And to be honest, libraries were like art galleries, I liked the feel, but couldn’t read any of the books because they’re all in print.

    One author that launched my career, oddly enough, was Andrew Clements. His book The School Story was one of the nutmeg books I read in fourth grade. It’s about a seventh grader who writes a book and gets it published. I never read it again or any of his others, but I got the idea that I could write a book too.

    Now I drop this line about how the Marvel Cinematic Universe completely influenced my outlook on character building and the themes I can write about.

    Authors that influenced me are Suzanne Collins, Tamora Pierce, Suzy Kline, Rick Riordan, Laura Ingalls Wilder, she-who-must-not-be-named, Garth Nix, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some.

    • I think there’s always that one author that captures us at first. They sometimes fade away until you remember one day and there he or she is again.

      Will James for one, with Smoky the Cowhorse.

      Beverly Clearly for Henry Huggins, et al.

      Pecos Bill by Eric Blair.

      All old friends.

  10. A topic always near and dear to my heart. I live in a small one-bedroom apartment, but long for the day I have a home where I can have custom shelves built to properly display my books. I’ve no idea how many I have–but probably no more than about 300 (one day I’ll have to literally count to see how far off the mark I am).

    Most influential of course was Zane Grey–I’m in the process of collecting his books in the same tan/red covers that I brought home from the library in stacks to read as a kid. He took me out west years before I ever got there & I was so thankful to learn that not every state was as flat & dreary as the east coast state I grew up in. And now I am so blessed to live in the west & look at the mountains every day!

    Also loved reading those Hardy Boys blue spine books and would like to collect those one day. And very fond memories during the 70’s/80’s of going to Waldenbooks about every month to purchase the latest Star Trek TOS novel that hit the market (the best ones heavily featured Spock).

    My collection, by vast majority, is non-fic. The 19th century American West is my gig so I love to collect, whenever I can, print histories on various topics in that area. Add to that the Journal of Arizona History volumes, some health/fitness stuff, etc. and what little bit of space I have for books is gobbled up.

    But I’m in a rather painful transition now. With aging comes changes in eyesight, so I no longer even bother with mass-market paperbacks, which were made for younger eyes. I mostly reserve my print book purchases to the above mentioned historical reference titles (there tended to be a lot of good historical reference published on my subject area in the 50’s/60’s) and have switched the bulk of my purchases to ebook format.

    Overall I love the convenience of ebooks, but they are a bit of a pain when you just want to pick up your reference book and flip through it to certain things, which isn’t so easy to do with an e-book. But eh well. I’d rather have an e-book than no book at all.

    • Believe me, I understand the eyesight thing. Now I need bigger type and brighter light. I’ll never get rid of the books, though. I enjoy looking at them and remembering.

  11. John D. MacDonald and Dick Francis and Patricia Highsmith, and Erma Bombeck…I could go on and on about writers who influenced me! I’ve run out of room in my small house for more books and have taken to giving them away to my blog readers.

      • Which also reminds me–in this day and age of Zoom virtual meetings, the best backgrounds behind meeting attendees are the ones which show bookshelves loaded with books. 😎

  12. As to the trolling and vitriol, I have no idea. Maybe it’s generational, my own 30-ish children live with very few possessions. Oddly, neither owns an e-reader and prefers reading physical books.
    My library is about 1,000 books, a wall of shelves line my office. Although many are still in boxes. Early influences were; Walter Brooks’ Freddy series, Robert McCloskey, Keith Robertson, Margery Sharp. I graduated to Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, then hit the accelerator with Asimov, Heinlein, Niven, Sturgeon, Ellison.
    Killzone Blog has introduced me to many authors I would not have found, Maurice LeBlanc for one.
    Thank you for a great post.

    • McCloskey and Robertson! Yay! Foundational authors to me.

      Then came Burroughs, Henry Kuttner (Robots Have No Tails…a classic everyone should read, even if they don’t like sci-fi), Karl Edward Wagner…

      Now I need to dig through old boxes of books and find them again!

    • Yay! Another Walter Brooks fan. And my favorite SF authors! I met Bradbury several times. Dick Francis appears on many of our lists, and I read most of his series, along with Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse series.

  13. I don’t understand that at all why folks would get up in arms about someone’s library. Guess some people can’t be happy unless they have something to argue about. I try to stay away from crazymakers but when you are on a public forum, you never quite know how someone is going to respond.

    I don’t know how many books we have but they are everywhere. Bookcases in every room, and we’re about to redo our bedroom and do wall to wall shelving. The ones we have are currently double parked. Plus the ones in boxes in the closet and the garage. My brother got me started with science fiction and fantasy, so when I was in my 20’s, the shelves in my apartment were full of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Charles De Lint, Tom Dietz, etc. as well as the Gears.
    Now my shelves are full of everything from all of Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb to James Rollins to Patricia Briggs to Christopher Paolini to Lee Child to Dean Koontz and Stephen King to Louise Penny and Nalini Singh, Dana Stabenow and various authors. I’m an voracious reader. Plus all the classics and Shakespeare we inherited from my late mother in law fiction and non fiction we collected over the years from homeschooling. My son is into comic books and star wars stories. Hubby is into nonfiction. We recently have been culling out books to donate to the friends of the library which is difficult, but I decided for some that weren’t my friends or I’d never read again, it was time to go. Nature abhors a vacuum as you know so the babies keep having babies so I don’t think the stacks or shelves have reduced very much. LOL! I’ve also been working my way through all the killzone authors having read most of the emeritus authors over the years.

    I read broadly and wildly and deeply so I’d have to say all the writers have had some influence on my writing over the years.

    Happy reading to you all as well!

    • I used to read a lot more, back before I started writing.

      Now with more than one series to produce, I feel bad about not reading when I’m writing, but then when I’m reading, I keep getting these ideas or bits of dialogue that pop into my head and I want to hit that keyboard again.

      It’s a wonderful cycle.

  14. I have no idea why anyone would wind their undershorts tight over the size of someone’s book collection, Rev. Best response to them is “get a fn life”.

    I’m a chronic book-rat. I guess I have a few thousand, most packed away. Plus an ebook stash. There are three books over the years that really stand out, though. I was scrounging in a used book store and found three pristine, first-edition hardcovers of Thomas Harris’s Silence Of The Lambs. They were new – not like-new – but brand new. I only paid a few bucks for the lot and I’m sure the clerk had no idea of their collector value. It was a start-the-car moment.

    I did the honorable thing with them. I gave one to my son, one to my daughter, and one to Sue Coletta. Folks who appreciated the lucky score.

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