Thursday, July 26, 2007

Man's Apartment Condemned Because His Books Are Fire Hazard

I've heard stories like this one before, and about 20 years ago, I visited an old man who had so many books and newspapers in his tiny home that the only way to move around inside was to follow the narrow "tunnels" that he had cleared to his kitchen, bathroom and bed. Everything else was covered with stacks of books. I felt very uneasy during my short visit and wondered whether or not I should report what was obviously both a health hazard and a fire hazard that threatened this man's life.

So I'm not particularly surprised to read that Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, authorities have decided to evict one man from his apartment because of the dangerous situation they say he has created there with his multitude of books.
John Puchniak quite literally lives in a sea of books.

He reads constantly except when he’s haunting bookstores, libraries and, when he’s able to get there, the Philadelphia bookstore that he co-owns. He filled his house with about 3,000 texts until it was repossessed by the bank, which agreed to move them all to an apartment Puchniak rented on North Main Street specifically because there was plenty of storage space.
During a routine yearly inspection, one that Puchniak had passed since he moved there in 2002, he was given three days to clean, but no indication about what needed to be done. Boxes and bags of books were everywhere, so he began reorganizing.

When Puchniak’s landlord, Caroline Lawson, city code enforcement officers Frank Kratz and Joann O’Donnell and city fire inspector Bill Sharksnas returned on June 1, the apartment was condemned, according to Puchniak’s attorney, Jim Hayward.

O’Donnell then indicated Puchniak needed to “get rid of the books” before it would be habitable again, Hayward said.

Certainly not an option for Puchniak, he began further consolidating his collection, clearing his two flights of stairs, the landings in between and pathways to most radiators.
Mr. Puchniak has obviously crossed the line from book-lover to someone who has become totally obsessed with books. They have taken over his life to the point where he thinks of nothing else and now can barely afford housing and the other necessities of life for himself.

I find his story to be a sad one, one that is not all that uncommon, and my sympathies are with him in his battle to regain his apartment even though I know that the man could use some help in sorting out his obsessive behavior. Something tells me that it must be very easy for book lovers to slip over the line that he has crossed. Now, that's a scary thought, isn't it, book lovers?


  1. It does sound like he might have an obsessive behavior problem. And it sounds like he needs help.

    Thankfully I have my wife to keep me from crossing any kind of a line like that! :)

  2. :-) I hear you, Matt, and like you, I have a wife who is going to definitely keep me from ever crossing that magic line between "collector" and "obsessed."

  3. I have a friend who is a social worker in Brooklyn who works with the aged, and unfortunately, she has many stories of people who live like this. It's really sad.

    On a more upbeat note, hope you don't mind but I'm tagging you for the Blogging Tips Meme. Check it out on my blog, and no worries if you don't feel like playing!

  4. That does seem to be a fairly common problem for the elderly population, Gentle Reader. It's almost like they don't want to dispose of any of their past...maybe it gives them the comfort that they need to struggle on?

    I'll take a look at the new meme this afternoon...thanks for the tag. :-)

  5. I have over 2800 books in 11 bookcases in a second bedroom I use as a library. Does this mean I need help? I think not.

  6. Doesn't sound like it to me, and that's nothing like the cases where folks have filled almost every inch of their living space with books and newspapers. I think you'd know the difference if you saw it. :-)