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Slight Heartbreak

December 27, 2010

Perhaps this post should have been called Making Room for New Books, but whatever the title, the element of heartbreak remains. Yesterday, I packed up seven boxes of books to take to storage. I’m fairly used to packing up my bookshelves, but I usually bundle them up in their entirety and leave their ultimate fate to movers. Never before have I not lived with my bookshelves intact, even if that meant that there were books everywhere, in multiple rows, some collecting dust, others bent into submission to fit on the shelves. Even though I only ever leafed through a fraction of my books, I felt reassured by the fact that we were together. Huddled in one place.

But recently, my bookshelves started to stress me out. I could never find what I was looking for and the randomness and disorder on my shelves that I had formerly cultivated and admired began to grate on my nerves. I had let my bookshelves grow out of control; the books overflowed. But I loved the fact that I had a book about bunny rabbits (don’t ask) next to a primer on typography next to Randall Jarrell’s poems next to the Cat in the Hat (in Latin). I loved my bookshelves for their restlessness and their resistance to any kind of order. Going through my bookshelves felt like walking aimlessly through the stacks of a library and accidentally stumbling across the book you were (unconsciously) looking for.

The only problem with my particular form of utterly disorganized bibliophilia is that my husband and I live in a two-bedroom apartment, and there is only so much wall space for bookshelves.  (Not to mention the fact that my husband and I haven’t merged bookshelves because how could his 1000+ identically-sized fantasy/sci fi books EVER feel comfortable next to my Yiddish Bird dictionary, Carol Shields’ Unless and Chekhov’s stories? No, we definitely haven’t reached the stage of book cohabitation yet.) And, I can’t seem to live without acquiring new books. I could buy a new book every day of the year, and it wouldn’t feel excessive.

So, yesterday, I took the plunge. I began to trim my shelves to make room for the new books that I am excited to acquire in 2011. I retired many books I love to our basement storage unit. Many of the Victorians went downstairs (Middlemarch and Bleak House remain, but Wordsworth didn’t make the cut this time). There wasn’t really a system to my decision making. I chose to keep whatever books speak to me at this specific time. Thomas Mann’s novels stayed, Robert Lowell went. Turgenev remained, Garcia Marquez left. Mikhail Bakhtin, Roman Jakobson, Frederic Jameson, Yuri Lotman, Lydia Ginzburg, Frank Kermode — theoretical staples of my graduate school years — belong to me at a different stage. Though I hadn’t opened those tomes in 5 years, I felt I needed their company. Yesterday, I had the strength to let them go. Perhaps if we ever buy a house, there will be room for a reunion, but until then, I’m happy to know we had our years when we were inseparable.

My bird book shelf now has room to grow. There is space for new the novels, story collections, essays that I can’t wait to acquire.

I let a sense of randomness and serendipity prevail on my bookshelves, even in their trimmed state. Paul Celan still stands next to Orhan Pamuk who stands next to Mandelstam next to Ovid. (Though, in that particular combination, there is more than a little order.) It was a strange day: a mix of nostalgia, slight heartbreak, and excited anticipation of the year to come.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 28, 2010 3:19 pm

    I love love love how you write about everything, but books in particular. Your passion is so apparent (and contagious). Sorry about the heartbreak though.

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