I’ve been thinking a lot recently, after having to move back home, about how and why it’s been particularly depressing to have no space to unpack all of my books. For the first time in my life I don’t have room for them all, 640 and counting, arranged sometimes with hazard and sometimes with care on a growing number of bookshelves, each literally sagging a bit at certain points. I remember when I first moved on campus at Notre Dame and decided against anything resembling sanity that I had to bring my entire library with me, hastily buying and erecting two tall bookshelves in the bedroom after having pushed the dresser I barely had use for into the closet to make room.
There’s a shallow pleasure to it, something almost purely visual in having all those spines staring back out at you, extravagantly colorful in some spots, plain and dustily, studious-seeming in others. Horrible genre fiction, the classics, modern experimental mindfucks, and comforting reads I’ve owned since before I was in high school. Pristine hardbacks I’ve yet to touch and crumbling mass market paperbacks that have actually begun to feel weighty with book tape.
I’ll cop to that forever, that visceral and silly pleasure, the way an array of books just feels intellectual and insane all at the same time. The pride of it, the intellectual vanity, I’m a Smart Person, this is a room where Important Thoughts Are Thought.
It does feel alien, then, like someone has died — I actually feel changed, having most of my books sitting in ragged boxes that barely held together through the most recent move, stored away in a part of the house I don’t even have ready access to most of the time. I realize this is a #FirstWorldProblem of a fairly high order, but it’s honest. There’s a lot of history in my books, and I don’t mean anything to do with what’s inside the covers. We’re each a microculture and you can tell a lot about a person by the books he keeps. I can remember where and when every single book was bought or received. The gifts, the books bought for a class (some I still despise, some that changed me at the core of my entire self). The books, too many to be sure, bought on a whim after some passing review or recommendation, grabbed used from Amazon and yet to be read.
The Murakami bought because an ex I was mad for said it was her favorite, and I puppy-love goofily asked her to inscribe it before she left on a trip, years later returned to her in anger and confusion and sadness. It was given back, then thrown away, and now haunts a very strange and selective internal shelf.
The Brian Jacques book that was leant to my best friend in high school and was returned two days before his terrible accident.
The Tolkien I sat awake three days with in the hospital waiting room before he moved on.
When someone asks who I am, what I do, what I enjoy, what scares me, what makes me think it’s all worth anything at all, the only thing I can think to do is start curating a shelf or two of books that would be the best I could offer up as an honest answer. I want to edit together an anthology the way people used to make mixtapes.