Our Reading Lives

Home is Where the Library Is

This is a guest post from Jessica Avery. Jessica grew up in the frosty, but not quite frozen, woods of Western Maine, where for seven or so chilly months of the year there’s not much to do but read. She cut her reading teeth on fantasy and romance, and not much has changed in the last decade or so. Though she did take her reading to the professional level, by adding a B.A. and an M.A. in English. Still, it’s a long road from earning an English degree to getting to use an English degree. So until she can find her niche in the book world, Jessica spends her work time surfing an administrative desk at a small local college in her home state, and her free time putting a few of her critical analysis skills to work by blogging professionally about romance and fantasy novels. Follow her on Twitter @JtheBookworm.

For many of us, our 20s are a chaotic time. We’re wedged between the supportive structure of higher education and our lives as fledgling independent adults; all wobbly legs and nervous ticks like Bambi. Everything feels up in the air, and if you were any less secure in your identity, your purpose, and your place in the world then the ground would literally be falling out from under your feet. Change is often sudden, rapid, and ruthlessly unexpected—even when it’s something you’re actually planning for, like a move. I don’t know about you all but I feel like 3/4 of the last 7 years was spent literally on the go, dragging myself and my books hither and yon, across states and across state borders.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: the process of moving never changes. Whether you’re facing your first move into a real apartment, or on your way to the third, or fourth, or fifth, moving is still going to be a pain. It’s emotional, physically exhausting, and mentally draining. It’s just no one’s idea of a good time. (At least no one I’ve met—if you know someone who loves to move, let me know. I could use some help in the spring.) Then, when it ends, you’re left in your new will-be home, and that newly cleaned and empty apartment is a promise of potential and a fearful void all at once.

First nights, for me, are always the worst. There’s always this inexplicable feeling of being deserted, even if you’ve been on your own for years. This particularly strong when you find yourself sitting on your mattress, which is still in the living room, eating Thai take-out because you can’t find your kitchen totes.

So then what? Well, usually I cry into my rice for a while. It’s very cathartic. I highly recommend it, and the rice won’t judge you. But when I’ve dried out, and consumed a potentially lethal amount of (now somewhat saltier) fried rice, I get to work. Because aside from food, keeping busy is the surest way to keep ahead of the New Place Blues.

I always start the process of unpacking in the same way: by reaching for “those boxes” (or bags, or totes). I bet you know the boxes I mean. They were packed with painstaking care, any voids  were filled with scarves and hats to keep the contents from shifting in the truck, and you taped them up tight and scrawled “Handle with Care” in permanent marker across the top. Of all the containers you brought with you, they are they heaviest. And they took up most of the space in the truck, just like they now do in your new living room. For me “those boxes” are the most important when it comes to settling into a new place. They contain, of course, my books—in travel mode!

See for me, a new apartment isn’t a home. Not until my books are shelved and arranged. So I always start my unpacking with the books. It’s become a first night ritual, often involving said take-out and a handful of light-hearted films as background noise. At some point in my life, without meaning to, I pinned the notion of “home” on a set of tidy bookshelves and a collection of brightly colored paperbacks. There it stays.

Maybe, at that particular moment, I don’t have internet yet. Or maybe the new fridge is empty and I forgot to pack a shower curtain and liner for the new bathroom. Maybe there’s a long, expensive trip to Walmart in my future before my new place will start to feel lived in. But making a place feel like “home” is easier. It starts with the feel of ripping duct tape, the whisper of pages, the smell of binding glue breaking down in well loved books, and the familiar, soothing, repetitive motion of shelving.