I have a system. It involves numbered notecards and many crates. I start in the basement with the Zs and work backwards to the As. The stairs are the hard part. Even though the crates rarely hold more than fifteen books to maintain alphabetical order, I can only carry three at a time. I load them onto the handtruck upstairs, stacking six, then wheel them teetering down the ramp, into the new space, all the way to the back room.

It’s the future home of Mysteries and Thrillers and also the event space, replacing the old basement that I’m dismantling shelf by shelf.

The crates are practical. They stack and don’t fall apart from repeated use and rough handling, but they’re unforgiving. I have cuts all over my hands from scraping their rough edges. I pour sweat going up the stairs with full stacks and back down with empties.

When a bookcase is empty, I haul it upstairs. The new room is airy and light; totally different than the basement. I think about the millions of words I carry as I work. Some of the authors are factories rather than individuals. James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, Clive Cussler, Janet Evanovich, Stuart Woods, and a dozen others have thirty or forty titles each. I stack their paperbacks two deep to save space. Each one’s series has a keyword in its name, like Prey or Girl or Dark. They’re like branding, made to be recognized by repeat reader/customers. When they see the word they know what they’re getting. They keep coming back or else I wouldn’t be hauling these piles.

A few days after I finish with the Mystery room, there’s a play performed in it. A fake author-signing by a pompous self-described thriller writer who sends out his own press-release comparing himself to Fleming and Clancy. I laugh along with the others. It’s cool to see a room that was empty only a week before, now full of people and voices. The blur of multi-colored spines lining the walls is a fitting backdrop. The fact I put all those books there is satisfying in a way I rarely experience.

We keep taking apart the old store, section by section, working mostly back to front. I lose track of time and day. I come home exhausted every evening. It feels like it will go on forever, though I know from the emptying storefront that it will all be over in another couple weeks.

June 3rd I leave town on a weeklong tour. When I return, the old store will be gone and there will only be the new one.

How will I know what to do once there are no more crates to stack and number?

Mallory and I go into Inland Empire.