Books don’t just hold stories, they hold memories. I was reminded of this as I recently packed up my bookcases for my fifth move in 12 years, lost in various reveries.
I’ve moved enough that I have progressively culled my collection a bit with each move — and I haven’t stayed put long enough to truly build it back up. Books are heavy, even for professional movers. (Tip: Use the small box.)
What hasn’t made the cut? Anything I disliked and anything I know I won’t ever get around to reading (or rereading). Also gone are books that remind me of unpleasant points in my life, or anything that looks really beat up (or smells like mildew).
I’ve kept books I’ve loved, books I’ve liked, books I still want to read but haven’t. I’ve kept books I’ve received as gifts, books that remind me of happy times, books written or edited by people I know.
Some books are souvenirs: “Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates,” from a girlfriend from childhood. Yearbooks from high school, and a French-English dictionary from a favorite teacher. Poetry by e.e. cummings from college, a reminder of young love. The rules of civil procedure and a pocket Constitution from a challenging year in law school, plus the book on the Dred Scott case that was a welcome break from legalese. (The textbooks are long gone. Good riddance, introduction to contract law.)
Then there are books that are almost a reproach. “This Year You Write Your Novel” reminds me that it wasn’t. “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” makes me realize I have a long, long way to go. But there’s always hope, right? They, too, were gifts, and make me smile when I think of the well-meaning friends who gave them to me.
While packing, I tend to get distracted as I rediscover cherished books that I can’t resist opening instead of just placing in a box. I want to reread particularly resonant passages, find a certain quote or refresh my memory on the story, which slows the process considerably. This may lead to other, tangentially related books, or even a Web search.
This time, among others, I was drawn to Janet Fitch’s “White Oleander,” Irina Reyn’s modern “Anna Karenina” update “What Happened to Anna K.” and longtime favorite “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. They’re all books I’ve loved and want to reread. Apparently, the stories of doomed romance, family drama and tragedy particularly resonated in this time of transition, turmoil and reminiscence.
I would’ve done this for hours had my husband not prodded me to keep packing. Jay Gatsby isn’t the only one borne back into the past.
My carefully considered shelves are now just a jumble of books in boxes, packed according to size and shape and not content or significance. Poetry mingles with fiction, nonfiction with art books, self-help with cookbooks. I like to think they’re all waiting for order to be restored in their new home, and I’ll be happy to see them again — when unpacking holds its own literary distractions, of course.
My husband and I are the Goldilocks of home buyers: This condo is too small; this condo is still too small; this townhouse is too big and too far away from work and friends. We’re hoping our new home is just right.
I’m looking forward to staying put this time, and not just because it means that I can add to my book collection.
What about you? What books do you keep? What books do you part with? What do you do when you move: Do you pare down or just pack up? Can you look at a pile of your favorite books without wanting to dive in and start reading? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.