I’m trying to organize a home office. Gone are the days that this meant a stapler and mug full of pencils. The office is essentially a laptop since work is essentially virtual. Oh, there are days when I have to haul myself into New York City, but even making traditional print books is an exercise done largely online. The office is a place conducive to work. In the case of an editor, a room of books that can be used for reference. In our apartment we had bookshelves (mostly homemade) around the inside perimeter, covering all wall space that wasn’t claimed by more necessary furniture. We realized, as we were packing, that no free wall space reached to the floor. We didn’t plan it that way, but a reading life can be a complicated one. To write books you need to read books.
Our house has some built-in bookshelves. Not enough to hold our surviving books, but it’s a start. My office, however, is a spartan room. Over the weekend I unpacked my “work books.” That meant, for the most part, books about the Bible. I filled three large bookshelves then ran out of room. Not only was there that embarrassment, but there was the fact that a large number of “religion” books remained unshelved. You see, I was a religion editor for a few years before being more narrowly slotted into the Good Book. Some might say I should jettison these books since my career has moved on. Those who suggest such heresy don’t understand the career of a displaced professor at all. These books are still work books. Job descriptions aren’t as stable as they used to be.
The complaint is an old one, at least to my wife’s ears. In my mind I’m still a professor. I still write—strictly on my own time—and I still research. I do so without access to a university library so I have, over the past several years, made my own library. This office, now out of bookshelves, is that amateur academic library. My research has shifted from ancient Near Eastern studies (and that’s another whole discipline’s worth of books, some unfortunately washed away in the flood) to religion more broadly. Not only is that reflected on this blog, but also in my publications. The office isn’t done yet. There’s a desk and a chair. More importantly, there’s internet access. There are some shelves, but in coming days there will need to be more. Libraries are like minds; if they shrink they become less functional. All books, no matter how dry, began in someone’s imagination. That’s virtual reality.