About 15 years ago, a burglar broke into Don D’Ammassa’s garage. He smashed open the door, looked around inside, and was shocked to discover its contents: shelf after shelf of books. Seeing nothing of value, the burglar left empty-handed.
But to East Providence resident and author D’Ammassa, that garage is a goldmine. He personally owns 65,000 books – and if you can’t imagine what that looks like, picture a decent-sized warehouse standing on the edge of a grassy lawn. Since 1980, D’Ammassa has stored his library in this garage, which was formerly a horse stable. When his collection finally outgrew the walls, D’Ammassa built an addition – but even this extended space is now jammed. The shelves are a bibliophilic maze, the aisles just wide enough to shimmy down.
“My mother taught me to read when I was five years old, and I’ve been collecting books ever since,” D’Ammassa says matter-of-factly. “This was a chicken farm originally. There were four [horse] stalls that had been turned into a garage. When we bought the house, it wasn’t being used, and we converted it to a library.”
The titles cover a range of genres and topics, but the vast majority are science fiction novels – fitting, because D’Ammassa himself is a respected writer of fantasy and sci-fi, and he’s a renowned book critic. To date, he has authored 20 novels himself, along with 200 short stories, and his knowledge of fictional worlds is encyclopedic. D’Ammassa’s collection isn’t just for show; he has personally read two-thirds of his volumes. Incredibly, he learned to read phonetically, and he considers himself an unhurried reader. “I have trouble reading characters’ names,” he says, “and it slows me down.”
At 72, D’Ammassa will have to figure out what to do with his collection. Some fans have visited over the years, and his home has become legendary among speculative fiction societies. But D’Ammassa doesn’t believe his son will want to maintain such a vast stockpile, and donating to academic institutions is surprisingly problematic. “Colleges don’t want it anymore, unless you give them the money to support it,” he says.
About 50 years ago, D’Ammassa met his wife Sheila at a science fiction book club. Their house is also packed with books and DVDs, and the couple has a mutual affection for mysteries. “I have various odd little collections,” Sheila says. For the most part, she now prefers ebooks over physical paperbacks, and she chuckles at the thought of adding anything else to their library. “There wouldn’t be room.”