Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where Are All These Books Going, Where Have They Been?

We have moved. And as my older daughter said, Wow, it feels like we're living in a hotel! Well, sure, if it's the kind of hotel that has exposed lathing in the walls, plaster dust on the floor, and no doors on any of the rooms! I did not say. Don't get me wrong. It's not that I wouldn't want to stay in a hotel like that. It's just that I've never seen one like that.

Really, the thing is that we still have a lot of things in boxes. And at this point in time, the majority of boxes still unpacked contain all of our books.

Now a bunch of years ago, a guy named Bill Gates (famous only around here due to a distant cousin who murdered his entire family) made some very nice built-in bookshelves for our office. Then we moved and Bill Gates built us more bookshelves. And Bill Gates, if you’re reading this, sometime soon we’re going to need some new bookshelves at our new, um, hotel.

But back when we had those beautiful shelves, we put all our books on them and then spent lots of time admiring them. The books were arranged mostly alphabetically by author, which surprised many visitors to our office. I can’t believe you actually alphabetize your books! people would say, as though we did something completely unheard of. Sometimes my husband would explain that he had really wanted to arrange them by their Library of Congress numbers (true), but sometimes he would not.

And yet the way they were mostly alphabetical is that we had a whole bunch of books that we had no idea how to arrange and so they took up their own shelves: books about beer, travel books, books about building bat houses and tapping maple syrup and raising chickens and making your own soap, etc. And then we had a bunch of shelves devoted to literary journals, which once we read during a brief window of our lives.

And now they’re all packed up in numbered boxes (naturally) and I have to say that I don’t exactly miss them. And I wonder why we have so many of them. I mean, it’s a nice thing to look at all the books you’ve read, books by a favorite author, say, or a book you might have completely forgotten about, until you happen to notice it on a shelf. But in another way, since I don’t tend to reread books all that often, those particular books aren’t really being used anymore. It’s not like our records (also boxed up in numbered boxes), which get used over and over again. The books are there, I suppose, for our kids to read someday, and for our friends to borrow. And to admire, as I do sometimes, since they really do look so pretty on those shelves. I suppose you can think of them like photographs (also boxed up, but who knows where) that capture a moment in time, the moment in your life that you were reading the book.

It took my older daughter some time to understand that books are printed in editions, so that a book we had that was first published in 1922 was not the actual book that was printed in 1922. And maybe it both is and isn’t important to have the exact copy of the book you read. But just seeing that span of books on the shelves, mostly alphabetical, and extremely patient, makes you remember your reading life. So that is probably a good enough reason to keep building bookshelves. And putting your books back up on them.


SZ said...

Your books are beautiful. I know this because I have seen them. And whether you intended this or not, they make you look smart.

I once dated a guy who told me he was disappointed in my book collection, especially considering I had majored in English. This was during a period in my life I call the Wilderness Years, when I was moving a lot and doing all kinds of stupid stuff (like dating the aforementioned guy). I just got tired of packing and unpacking boxes of books, so I got rid of most of them.

Since that time I have rarely bought any books; I just take 'em out of the library. This saves both space and money, but I can't help worrying that people who come to my house will think I'm not smart.

How are we going to impress visitors when we all have e-readers?

Reyna said...

Dude, a certain Russian housemate of mine in college was disappointed in my book collection because most of my books were by American and English authors! The idea!

You are certainly smart, whether you have lots of books or not, or whether you have a Pee Wee Herman doll permanently resting upon your bookshelves.