We have LOTS of books. We have floor-to-ceiling shelves in our living room and a 30 foot-long wall of floor-to-ceiling shelves in our study. They are full of books–and I ordered more shelves for Herb for Christmas! We love our books and take good care of them. We even read some of them!
When our children were small, I collected 600 books (give or take a few) so that while we lived in the French-speaking world, the kids could enjoy reading in their mother language. These books traveled from New York to the Central African Republic, from there to France, and back across the ocean to Tennessee.
In our Tennessee Victorian house we built shelves in the library, and there the children’s books lived and were loved alongside my own books. Kara was still young enough to enjoy some of them, and I re-read my old favorites, too. Then four years ago we moved here, and the children’s books became homeless. They lived in boxes stacked in the hay barn because we had no place for them.
That is how the Library at Cair Paravel became a feature of our Narnian design. Of course, C. S. Lewis never wrote about a Library at Cair Paravel, but I’m sure there must have been one. So I let my imagination loose and thought up a regal setting for the books–a place that will make them feel like their four years of homelessness were worth enduring; a place that will bring joy to our grandchildren as they enjoy the same books their parents read; a place that will encourage us adults to pull old favorites off the shelves and enjoy them again.
Once Cair Paravel was ready, Herb hauled over 2 dozen boxes of books into the study, and I began unpacking. I got an unpleasant (if not completely unexpected) surprise: The books smelled awful! They were musty, and in some cases even mildewy! Thus began Operation De-mustification.
De-mustification required certain equipment:
Half a dozen bottles of 91% isopropyl alcohol (The pharmacist was worried the DEA would flag our purchase! It seems as if alcohol has replaced Iodine for cooking meth.)
A spray bottle (I put the pump mechanism into the bottles of alcohol rather than trying to pour alcohol into the spray bottle.)
Allergy masks and disposable gloves (optional–the masks tend to interfere with smelling the books.)
As I pulled each stack of books from a box, I used a fresh Clorox wipe to remove old dust from the top of the pages.
Next, each book got the “Smell Test” like Odysseus the Wanderer in the photo above. Books that passed the “Smell Test” got the “Lite” treatment, as follows.
I sprayed alcohol over the front of the book and wiped it with a paper towel. If the paper towel came away dirty, the book got further attention. Usually one spray and swipe was sufficient to be sure the book was clean.
I flipped the book over and repeated the same treatment on the back.
Paperbacks were propped open face down while hardbacks were fanned open to stand up. Since the 91% alcohol evaporates quickly, by the time I had treated two dozen or so books, I could go back to the first ones and stack them out of the way.
Any book that didn’t pass the “Smell Test” got the “Heavy Duty” treatment. And it goes without saying, that any book with visible mold or gray speckling got the same treatment!
Here’s one I didn’t have to smell! I quickly learned that these ex-library books with the heavy duty cloth covers were the worst for getting mildewed.
I think it has something to do with the glue that was used on their bindings.
The first step in the Heavy Duty treatment was to spray each cover heavily with alcohol and wipe vigorously. Although mold was visibly removed by wiping, I repeated the treatment with a clean paper towel to make sure no visible mold was left. One important tip to remember is that many times the sted design on the front covers of these ex-library books will run if sprayed with alcohol and wiped. If there’s visible mold to be removed, careful blotting will do the job without ruining the cover image. Otherwise, the cover can be left to air-dry.
The next step was to spray both inside covers.
After that, I fanned the pages with one hand while spraying them with the other.
Finally, I placed the book in a sunny windowsill to absorb some ultraviolet radiation on both the covers and the inside of the pages. When the book had adequately aired and no longer had any bad odor, it was rehabilitated and could join its friends. I ended up throwing away a couple of dust jackets, but I only found one book that was beyond de-mustification!
When I first started unpacking books, there was such a strong musty odor in our study that it wafted down the hall. By the time I finished treating all the books, the odor was gone. And best of all, when I had finished shelving all the books upstairs in Narnia, there was no odor at all! I’d say Project De-mustification was a success!