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Moving Books Is Hard To Do

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Michelle Anne Schingler, a former librarian and Hebrew school teacher, is the managing editor at Foreword Reviews. Her days are books, books, books; she knows how lucky that makes her.  Twitter: @mschingler

My reading life sits condensed in twenty boxes, waiting to be loaded onto a truck and carted 1,000 miles north.

I’ve always dreamt of a massive home library. Think: Beauty and the Beast. Or a variation of the Long Room. And if I’d been asked to assign my reader-self an animal spirit, I’d probably have chosen a tortoise, carrying my library on my back wherever I go.

But you don’t have to worry about the weight of things in a daydream. That castle library would be a misery to pack. My book accumulation has perhaps been more sloth- than tortoise-like: unneeded volumes hanging off of me like moss, that which has to be discarded before I’m presentable somewhere new.

Twenty boxes kept; 18 bags of library donations.

Being unwilling to let go of books is a literal pain–in my back. In the backs of the people helping me move. It’s costly to shift a library from place to place.

I tried to be brutal about letting titles go. I thought: treat the collection like a closet. If you haven’t “worn” those pages in a few years, perhaps it’s time for adios. I lose all of Tom Robbins, John Irving, and Amy Tan this way. I kept them for years for the memories pressed between their pages, but I know I’m not going back.

Political books that I nodded along to once are disappeared. I remember why I bought that second copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, the second and third of Leaves of Grass–but I’m not taking them with me. College English texts, from T.S. Eliot to Poe, that I kept because I thought I should: all banished. Some are already someone else’s.

I hand my rabbi two of his own volumes at services. One, he lent me on the day we met. It sat on my nightstand while I rebuilt myself. I never finished it. I meant to. For this volume, “done” ended up taking three years and meaning something other than a last page read.

I pass all of C. S. Lewis along, with the exception of The Great Divorce, which is a cool enough take on Heaven and Hell to hang around for future reference. The Catholic Way, and other titles that I relied on through my confirmation, go the donation way. They’d be odd bauble in my new home, for which I have more mezuzot than doors.

I find an old Hebrew flash card between books as I’m going: נֶפֶש , “soul”. There’s something to that in this process, I think.

But then I reason my way into keeping books I won’t finish, or can’t read. House of Leaves, in which I’ve hit my terror limit, gets packed. Part of a Braille Bible comes too, because a tactile version of the creation story still seems romantic to me.

Romantic enough to cede it shelf space? I can’t say. This is why I’m still twenty boxes heavy.

These are the books that I, at the moment, consider essential. But the donation piles, and the bundles organized for fellow readers, contain titles that once answered a need, too.

From these twenty boxes, how many books will make my next move?

I thought that my library was a reflection of the core of myself. This is clearly only partially true. Unless a reader’s core moves. Unless a shifting center marks a reader’s life.

Midway through packing feels like a poor time to wax existential. (I donate my Kant for good measure.) I am overwhelmed. My collection is streamlined. I am lighter. I am closer to ready. I am….going to have to buy a new bookcase when I get there.

Oy, but moving books is hard to do.