My house is full of boxes. And piles of various things. I can’t move without tripping over something.
I would say I’m not usually this disorganized, but that would be a lie. However, the boxes are new.
I’m getting ready to sell my house, and my realtor has strongly admonished me that I have too much stuff, so I need to clear a bunch of it out so my house can be nicely staged while I spend a few months pretending I don’t actually live in it.
Meanwhile, the boxes and the piles of stuff: some things are going to storage for a few months, and other things are going to Goodwill.
I started with books, because I thought they would be easy. Their rectangular shape makes them fit into boxes well, and they require no additional padding. Should be a breeze, right?
Until I started packing, and counting, and how in the world did I accumulate more than a thousand books?
Before anyone thinks that I’ve spent a gazillion dollars on books (not that there’s anything wrong with that), I need to clarify that most of them were acquired at used book sales. When a book is 50 cents, I’ll tend to err on the side of caution and buy the book, just in case I might ever need to read it.
So I haven’t read every book I own, but I’ve read most of them. Except for the last several months’ worth of book sale purchases, which are piled under my desk because I didn’t have space for them on the bookshelves (that should have been a sign, right?)
But don’t think this means I’ve only read a thousand-ish books. Oh no, the number is much higher. I am an avid patron of my local library. Libraries, I mean. Six of them. I have library cards at six different libraries.
(And I need to admit at this point that I’m so much of a nerd that I have a spreadsheet to keep track of which books I’ve read. Don’t tell anyone.)
The last few years I’ve been averaging about 200 books per year, according to my list.
Maybe a quarter of those aren’t read in their entirety. If I feel like the whole book isn’t relevant to me, I’ll flip through to the interesting parts. If it’s something really dense, like an architecture text, I might just look at the pictures and captions.
And if I bought the book, it’s now sitting in a pile on the floor of my study. Luckily the bookshelves are further from the door than my desk, so I’m only having mild mobility issues. The filing cabinet is on the far side of the books, so that’s been a bit of a challenge.
I’m trying hard to get rid of some of the books, I really am. But every time I pick up a book it reminds me of something… where I bought it, where I read it, who I was at the time in my life when I read it.
Even if it’s been almost 20 years since I read a book, and I know I’m never going to read it again, it’s hard to give it up. For example, I have a whole semester’s worth of Nietzsche that I have been lugging around the country since the early ’90s. All of his work is public domain, and thus available online for free, so I think I can get rid of those books safely at this point… except maybe I’ll keep The Birth of Tragedy because my philosophy professor was kind of my first hero as a grown-up, and it reminds me of her.
I have two copies of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist… but who knows when I might need a spare, so I’d better keep both. That’s one of my favorite books.
I have a José Martí compilation that I bought in Peru, but I never made it through the first chapter because reading in Spanish is not effortless for me and it makes me feel insecure. Someday I’ll get around to finishing it.
I did read all of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s Marcos: el Señor de los Espejos in Spanish, and I’m keeping that one too. It reminds me of watching Marcos’s speech at the Zócalo in 2001. (Yes, I was there. How cool is that?)
I have an autographed copy of Cindy Sheehan’s Dear President Bush. I cried when I met her, which was in 2006. That was two years after her son was killed in Iraq.
Of course I have the book that has a picture of my grandmother on the cover (in a Hedmark bunad that she made herself). I make sure to show that book to everyone who comes to visit me. Sometimes I point out to random bookstore clerks that my grandmother is on the cover of one of their books.
I have the U.S. first edition of Che Guevara’s Guerrilla Warfare, published in 1961 (while he was still alive). That doesn’t remind me of anything in particular, but it’s a bit of a collector’s item.
My favorite book of photos is Serengeti: Natural Order on the African Plain, by Mitsuaki Iwago. I actually flip through that one fairly often. You never get tired of seeing pictures of a wildebeest migration.
(Although, I think I need to stop looking at pictures of wildebeest migrations, or I’m never going to finish packing.)
The books mostly haven’t made it into boxes, but they are loosely organized into piles for either packing for storage, or taking to Goodwill. Of course a lot of them are still on the shelves because I can’t decide yet, or because I think I might need them in the next couple months.
And then there are a few haphazard and precarious piles on my desk of books that I might post on Amazon instead of taking to Goodwill (I’ve been scanning bar codes as I go along to see what everything’s worth).
Of course, not all my books are in my study. I have several dozen cookbooks in the kitchen. My trail guides and hiking books are in the living room because I refer to them a lot. Most of my web/computer/design books are in my cube at work. About a dozen books that I’m in the middle of reading are scattered throughout the house.
And at some point before I move, I need to track down all the books I’ve loaned to people, and return the ones I’ve borrowed. Luckily I have a list for that too.