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What am I to read into this radical new setup?

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© St. Petersburg Times, published April 9, 2001

It has been seven months since my last Barnes & Noble purchase, and that was only an audio book . . . okay . . . two.

I had to, because of the stack.

I called it that as a play on words, as in "stacks" in a library and what it originally was, a stack of books next to my bed.

About 20 years ago, when my book-buying habit was outstripping the time I had to read, I had to do something to keep from reading only the books that I had most recently purchased.

I stacked up 12 or 15 books, roughly from bottom to top in the order in which I had purchased them.

When it was time to start a new book I would take a book off the stack. When I purchased new books, I would lift the stack and add to the bottom.

Over the years and with the advent of big bookstores, the stack grew to the point where you could get a hernia by lifting it. So it became two, and eventually four stacks, which eventually collapsed and nearly killed me one night.

So, when I moved into my home 15 years ago, I had one room entirely lined with bookshelves and moved the "stack" to a section of those shelves, from which it eventually overflowed into two large portable bookshelves in different rooms.

Organizing things that way takes a lot of work and a little (some would say a lot) of eccentricity. When you remove books, you have to slide everything over so you will have space for more books.

Okay, you don't have to, but it's not like there was that much else to do in Dade City.

During my single days, even as the rest of my house degenerated into what my hog farming friends would object to me calling a pig pen, I kept "the stack" organized.

I did, however, stop describing its functions to women I dated, noticing that if I did, they became very agitated and remembered a sick relative whose hair they had promised to wash.

When I decided to start getting rid of things, books were the last on the list to go. Keep in mind that we are talking about a man who carried a 1971 Illinois Sewage Treatment Plant Operator's Manual through two states and three marriages and still owns a 30-year-old copy of 1001 Things to Do With Saran Wrap. (Actually a couple of interesting uses have been discovered since then, but that's another column and probably for another publication.)

But I got pretty good at reducing the horde, giving hundreds of books to charity and many more to used bookstores where I valiantly refused credit toward future purchases.

Finally I realized that I was at the magic point where I had exactly the same amounts of books and shelf space. And all was good.

After my fiancee offered me two choices -- a general cleanup or a fire -- I gave her a free hand in reorganizing things. When she was finished, I again had too many books.

Attractive gaps in the shelves had been created and filled with statuary and knickknacks which, admittedly, made the room look better, but the books from the gaps were piled up on the floor until that mythical someday when, I am promised, all things will be addressed.

It was then that I discovered that the territorial imperative had been violated and the sanctity of "the stack" had been tampered with. New and (gasp!) old books were mixed together with seeming abandon.

Change, I told myself, is good. I willed myself not to panic.

In fact I never discussed the subject until my stepson-to-be, who works in a library, visited, admired the setup and asked me how the books were arranged.

In the past they had been arranged by read and unread, order of purchase and, roughly, subject matter.

Let it be written against my name, though, that when the question was asked, I gave him the answer I had been given.

"They are arranged by color," I said.

And I didn't flinch.

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