After four years in Mississippi, hardcovers and paperbacks fill the built-in bookshelves and pour over into the office, the reading nook, my writing space, and onto side tables everywhere. In nine days, the entirety of our home will be taped up into boxes and carried away into a moving truck. Then, we’ll load our vehicle and drive west to one of the U.S.’s biggest cities in Texas to live for six weeks with suitcases and necessities. As our to-do lists expand, that I still need to set aside books for our time in temporary housing sans most of our belongings weighs heaviest on my brain.
A lot has changed since the last time I collected enough books for six weeks. My work life revolves around literature, so my yearly reading has noctilucent cloud-rocketed. During 2018, my last full year in California, I read 52 books, and I gathered nine titles for our beach cabin stay. During 2022, my last full year in Mississippi, I read 213 books, so I must pack more. How much? I’m not sure.
One certainty: A devoted poetry reader, I wish you could have seen me and my love’s faces when we realized I would be separated from my personal library for every single second of The Sealey Challenge, when participants read a poetry chapbook or collection every August day. Even though our lives are changing, I cling to my traditions, believing they help ground me. That calls for 31 poetry books, half rereads and half new-to-me — as well as seven summer titles for my seasonal poetry column. The genre is mostly sussed out since I’ve been committing books to sticky notes for months: Grand Tour by Elisa Gonzalez, Lucky Fish by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, A Shiver in the Leaves by Luther Hughes, and Then the War: And Selected Poems by Carl Phillips.
Another change: I listen to audiobooks regularly and read ebooks sporadically, which cuts down on the heft of hard copies. With the space that my phone, ereader, earbuds, and chargers take up, I can carry myriad books. Currently, I have 21 unread audiobooks and six unread ebooks.
Speaking of traditions, even though poetry takes priority all August, I want to squeeze in what prose I can. Passionate about reading challenges, I have my annual goals to consider: my monthly craft book plus a (hopeful) balance of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
So, I dig out my sturdy gray storage cube and place it in front of Goldie, my beloved library cart. I stare through the plastic diamonds, wondering what to fill it with. I avoid it. I snap a picture of all that emptiness and possibility to send to bookish friends.
To gauge the amount of prose to bring, this Virgo references facts. In the first half of 2023, I read 87 books. On average, I finish 15 books a month, about eight poetry, five fiction, and two nonfiction titles. According to my reading statistics, six weeks requires approximately seven fiction and three nonfiction books. At this point, I reserve my devices for backup, moods, and whims. Plus, I plan to visit the library and local indie bookstores ASAP, so selecting five fiction and two nonfiction books seems safe.
Last time we moved, I turned to Women at Work, an anthology of interviews from The Paris Review. During that transition, it fed me deeply, so the second installment, Women at Work Volume II, calls to me. I ponder starting it before our road trip. I carry it from the blue spinny chair by the window to our bedroom to New Orleans like a chunk of rose quartz. I don’t open it, but its presence soothes me.
Before my fiction and nonfiction shelves, I choose books by reading first sentences, paragraphs, and pages. Because I’m saying goodbye to this city where I spent several journeys around the sun, I add a Mississippi book, Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward, to my cube. In case icky afternoons arise, I add comfort reads and rereads, Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien and Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life by Abigail Thomas. I add a summery title, Thirst for Salt by Madelaine Lucas, seeing ‘tis the season. I add the newest releases I own to feel on top of things: Ghost Girl, Banana by Wiz Wharton and Banyan Moon by Thao Thai.
Unsurprisingly, impulses activate, and my careful reading math flutters out the window into the humid afternoon. I simply want to exist close to certain books. I write next to a stack of inspiring titles and consider one for security. I add my paperback copy of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. And what about the go-to titles I pull from my poetry bookcase to read a piece or five of? I add Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón and Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz and Space Struck by Paige Lewis.
Room still remains, and my mind is now teeming with Tetris-like cunning of what else I can fit in the cube…
If you’re a book lover faced with an impending move and are curious about how Rioters tackle the impossible-feeling situation, read 7 Things I Learned from Sorting, Packing, and Storing My Books; 8 Tips for Moving When You Have a Ton of Books; and How To Pack Books For Moving.