By Art Taylor
As I'm writing this, here's what our dining room looks like:
But despite all the liquor brands you see here, I promise we're not bootlegging, we haven't robbed a liquor store, and we aren't planning a big party (at least not yet, and not a chance it'll be this intoxicating if we do).
Instead, we're packing—and when we needed boxes, I thought, "Where would be a place that gets plenty of packages, where the boxes are strong enough to hold fragile material and where they're also small enough that they won't be too heavy?" When the answer came to me, I felt like I was a genius—but since then, I've learned that a lot of people grab moving materials from their local ABC store. So much for genius.
My wife Tara and I are currently in the midst of a big move—not big in terms of distance (we're staying in our general area here in Northern Virginia) but it feels big, given the amount of time and energy we've put into staging our own home (packing, decluttering, cleaning, etc.) and the amount of work ahead before our moving day next Friday. One of the biggest things to consider are the books we have in nearly every room of the house—a problem I think most writers and readers share, of course, and which Tara wrote about herself in a recent column at the Washington Independent Review of Books. The weight of books is, in fact, one of the main reasons to use smaller boxes; it's back-breaking otherwise.
I don't want to simply repeat Tara's points, all of which are good ones—focusing on choosing a home based on space for shelves, on the hard decisions about whether to pack a book or purge it (ouch!) as we pack, or on the way the stager for our own place waved her hand and basically suggested "books begone" as we prepped it to sell! (We didn't take her advice.)
But Tara's column at the WIROB and my own last column at SleuthSayers a few weeks back, looking at books as objects, have gotten me thinking in another direction about books and moving.
In considering why she's been saving certain books and giving others away, Tara gauged several questions, including "Does it bring joy? Will I ever read this again? Where did I get it? Do I remember reading it?" and the kicker: "What if I need it again?"
As I'm packing books and considering potential donations to the local Burke Centre Library (which runs a great book sale, I should stress!), I've been working through the same questions and making some of the same choices—but I've also been hung up on a couple more: What does it mean that I insist on lugging from this place to the next (and in some cases have already lugged other times from place to place) books that I still haven't read and that, thinking logically, calculating time (and yes, mortality), I will likely actually never read? And why is it I'm still buying books at such a clip as well, even as I'm moving these and discarding others and....?
Those comments above about the physical weight of books take on a different weight here, I recognize—lugging unread books toward eternity.
I don't mean to be a downer here, and I've actually heard it said just the opposite: that buying more and more books actually represents a form of optimism—the ambition and expectation that you will indeed read them, despite the odds. And ambition and intentions can indeed work out that way: I've mentioned elsewhere my year of reading War & Peace from an edition that I carried from one house to the next after a failed attempt many years ago. And when I look at other books on my shelf, I see other similar projects ahead: I'm behind on the books by one of my favorite authors, Tana French, so those last two titles need to come along, of course, and then it would indeed be nice to spend a year working through all those Graham Greene novels, and there are so many of my friends in the writing community whose recent books I need to catch up on, and there's never any lack of anthologies and back issues of EQMM and AHMM and.... And so many books I'd love to reread too—so I can't get rid of them, can I? even though the newer, unread books should probably come first, so...?
I know this discussion veers once more into the question of books for reading versus books as objects—the overlap there—and I'll stress that I do use the library too rather than just buying indiscriminately. But I'm curious: How many books on your own shelves are unread? How many might you anticipate never getting around to reading? Do you hold on to them anyway? And if so, why?
While you answer that, I'll be packing—bourbon boxes and vodka boxes and tequila boxes and....