Like many writers, I have a Book Problem. I haven't dared make a count but I think the number of books in my house must be pushing 4000 and they're present in almost every room.

I recently took a stab at assessing the degree of my Problem by tallying just the books in my bedroom (265) - the ones that began as an innocent stack on the bed-stand then started to reproduce like something from outer space, so that eventually they required a bookcase, which in turn overflowed into three towering piles on the radiator. I calculate that if I read one a day starting tomorrow, I'll finish in May.

However, most of my books reside in floor-to-ceiling shelves that fill the living room. They're arranged by - well, they're arranged.

Though I'm the sort of person who rolls T-shirts into neat cylinders and alphabetises the spices for cooking, I can't bring myself to impose this kind of cruel order on my books. Instead, they're loosely grouped, like guests you'd invite to one dinner party but not another because you know which of them would enjoy one another.


There are two shelves of travel books, with a sub-culture of Eastern Europe. I have a mass of poetry, a good chunk of Henry James and a wave of Virginia Woolf. Then there are the eccentric friends I've used to research each of my novels. From working on The Historian, I've retained a sweep of books on Balkan history and five different editions of Bram Stoker's novel, two of which I wrote prefaces for myself.

My forays into Impressionist painting for my novel The Swan Thieves show up as a splash of artists' journals and letters and a cliff of art books. My newly published novel, The Shadow Land, left behind a wall of works on East European communism and Bulgaria - a rare library in itself.

I seldom look back at these collections; instead, I prefer two shelves that hold signed works by writer friends.

Equally precious to me is a long row of books I loved as a child: Treasure Island, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Secret Garden, The Hobbit, Little Women, Eight Cousins, The Good Master.

And there are dozens of volumes - crumbling, elegantly 19th century - that I inherited from my grandmother, who inherited them from her grandmother, long-forgotten "ladies' novels", Montaigne's Essays, a Latin grammar.

I've postponed mentioning one important fact. Apart from collections, reference works and a few classics, I keep most books because I actually haven't read them yet. Once I read a book, unless it's something rare, I tend to pass it to the right friend or donate it to the library. This means reading is the only cure for my condition. I look forward to convalescence.

Author Elizabeth Kostova visits Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch from tomorrow until Thursday.