The Sturdy Bookshelves Of Pawel Oliszewski
by Ferrett Steinmetz
Listen to the audio version
When people asked me about Pawel Oliszewski's bookcases - which they inevitably did,
especially for the brief period I was paid to answer their questions - I told them my story in strict
chronological order. I explained how I moved next door to Pawel, a quiet Polish accountant,
when my mother died. I told them how, over the course of seventeen years, my neighbor gifted
me with seven fine specimens in his legendary line of improbable bookshelves.
No, I wasn't willing to sell them. Yes, he offered me more bookcases - roughly four a year,
actually. Yes, I turned him down - the man would have filled my house with bookcases, if only
I'd let him. Yes, I still have them all - the specimens I currently possess are specimen #89
(Vickers hardness test: 970 MPa), specimen #113 (Vickers: 1325 MPa), specimen #234
(Vickers: 2250 MPa), and the much sought-after late-era specimens #269, #287, #292, and #304
Yes, it is an irony that each of the bookcases are worth more than my house now. Oh, no, I've
never heard that one before.
But above all, I tried to tell the origin of the bookcases honestly - the tedious hobby of an asocial
immigrant who specialized in awkward pauses. This was an error. People wanted Pawel's
garage workshop to be a magical wonderland - wanted Pawel himself to be a sage, armored in
The official biography - which I did not write, despite being both a professional obituary writer
and a good friend to the Oliszewski family - jostled the facts around, made it seem as though
Agnes knew there was something special about Pawel's craftsmanship all along.
But no. His bookcases were boring, as was Pawel, as was I. Ask yourself: If anyone had seen
anything of interest in that quiet accountant, wouldn't the world have discovered his bookcases
years ago? Wouldn't they have discovered Myra Turnbull's purses and Jeb Guhr's model
No, the truth lay there all along, resting beneath cobwebs; it was just tedious. Easily overlooked.
Still. I'm going to tell you the way I've always told it. Strict chronological order. Just to
channel a bit of the old man's magic.
Are you interested now?