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My Books Are Separated By the Largest Ocean in the World

Jen Sherman

Staff Writer

Jen is an urban and cultural geographer who did a PhD on public libraries and reading. As a researcher, her interests are focused on libraries, reading, book retailing and the book industry more broadly. As a reader, she reads a lot of crime fiction, non-fiction, and chicklit. And board books. All the board books. You can also find her writing about books for children and babies at Instagram: shittyhousewife / babylibrarians Twitter: @jennnigan

As I sit typing this, my favourite books from my childhood are on the bookshelves behind me. There is the entire collection of The Baby-Sitters Club, the Teen Power Inc series by Emily Rodda, all the Anastasia books by Lois Lowry, the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton.

anastasia krupnik lois lowry

Somewhere across the Pacific, split between a storage unit and my in-laws’ house, are books that I read more recently, and the books that I *knew* I would want with me when I moved to the US. Harry Potter is there, as well as all of Liane Moriarty’s novels and Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme series.

When I moved to America earlier this year, I knew that I couldn’t take my entire collection with me. I still had about six hundred books left, after I’d done a major and brutal cull of my bookshelves, and they were not going to fit in the suitcases that were going with me. Decisions had to be made. Pick a favourite child, because you’re leaving the others behind.

I’m back in Australia now for a few weeks, and I’m faced with those decisions again. Which ones do I take with me when I head back to the US in a fortnight? Which ones are worthy of suitcase space, and which ones do I desperately want to have with me?

There is still something to be said about the materiality of books and the importance of the object. I know that value is in the story and the words that grace the pages of these books I love, and not so much in the ink and paper and glue or stitching that holds them together. But even after acknowledging that, I feel an emotional tug when I see these books on the shelves in my old bedroom. These are the copies that are turning yellow with age, that I wrote my name on when I was 10, or 11, or 12, that I held and read and loved. These are the most constant companions and items that I have owned the longest. These objects, not only the stories within them, hold value.

ghost of raven hill

The Ghost of Raven Hill, the first book in Emily Rodda’s Teen Power Inc series.

The books from my childhood are the ones that I read as comfort reads, and worlds that I retreat to when I’m stressed, or lonely, or homesick. I love revisiting Stoneybrook and the baby-sitters, joining them on their adventures even though I always skip the chapter two summaries. I’ve been rereading the Teen Power series, solving mysteries with the gang in Raven Hill, relishing the adventure and remembering how the stories resolve even though it’s been over a decade since I last read them. Cambridge with Anastasia and Sam Krupnik is another beloved favourite, and Anastasia is probably tied with Ron Weasley as my favourite character in the world.

How can I leave them behind?

Last year on Book Riot, Nikki Demarco wrote about how good it felt to be reunited with her books after they were retrieved and unpacked from storage. She wrote about the memories and associations as she unpacked particular titles, the emotions as she found new places for her collection. It made me wonder when and if mine would ever be in the same city again.