Thursday, June 16, 2011

`The Heavier Has My Equipage Grown'

Boxing and moving one’s library is a rare mingling of tedium and pleasure. The lifting, dusting and packing can be tiresome, but I enjoy creative culling, the opportunity to learn what’s no longer precious, which of the five-thousand or so volumes deserve another deserving reader, what’s worth selling. With this move, logistics are complicated, choices easy.

I fly to Houston in thirteen days but the long-distance hauler will take my car this weekend. By their rules, I’m permitted to pack one-hundred pounds of belongings in the trunk, though I’d be surprised if the driver carries a scale. With my suitcase and spare tire I’ll pack a cardboard shipping box holding 4.5 cubic feet of books – fifty pounds or more -- constituting the core of my personal library in Houston. No surprises in that collection: Shakespeare, Aldo Buzzi, Ronald Knox, Boswell, Johnson’s Lives of the English Poets, the Bible, Flann O’Brien, Winters, Pinkerton, Étienne Gilson, Melville, Beckett, Bowers, Geoffrey Hill, Zbigniew Herbert and so forth.

Here’s the complicated part: Our landlord has agreed to put new carpet in my office/library, probably when I’m already in Texas. I have to strip the shelves, box the books and haul them to our storage unit. That’s a lot of lifting, but with each volume culled, the load grows lighter and my wallet a little fatter. In his classic essay on reducing a library, “Books Won’t Furnish a Room,” Joseph Epstein reads my mind:

“Getting rid of most of my personal library comported nicely with my long-held fantasy of traveling light, existing with minimal encumbrance, living simply. A fantasy it has always been, for the longer I have lived, the heavier has my equipage grown."

Unlike Epstein, the only thing I’ve accumulated to guilt-inducing proportions is books. After this latest move to Houston, where I’ll again have daily access to a first-rate university library, I anticipate feeling cleaner and lighter, without sacrificing bookish sustenance. Last week, my brother mailed an almost-mint-condition copy of Czesław Miłosz’s Roadside Dog he bought for almost nothing at a flea market. It arrived Tuesday. On one side of the shipping box he wrote in red marker: “OH BOY, Another Book.”


Don said...

Two thoughts:
* I'm curious as to which Flann O'Brien book you're bringing. I have a "Best of Myles" volume that is great for dipping into.
* You are also edging toward my rationale for having Kindle. I fly constantly (2-3 flights/week)for work. With the Kindle, I don't have to decide on Sunday night all the books I want to take for the week. Nor do I have to carry them. I still prefer to read "real" books, but this sure improves quality of life.

Anonymous said...

While recently enduring a similar move, Helen Pinkerton recalled Henry Vaughan's "To His Books" in "Quest for Reality," ed. Yvor Winters and Kenneth Fields.

Bright books! the perspectives to our weak sights,
The clear projections of discerning lights,
Burning and shining thoughts, man's posthume day,
The track of fled souls, and their milky-way,
The dead alive and busy, the still voice
Of enlarged spirits, kind heaven's white decoys!
Who lives with you, lives like those knowing flowers,
Which in commerce with light spend all their hours;
Which shut to clouds, and shadows nicely shun,
But with glad haste unveil to kiss the sun.
Beneath you all is dark and a dead night,
Which whoso lives in, wants both health and sight.
By sucking you, the wise (like bees) do grow
Healing and rich, though this they do most slow,
Because most choicely, for as great a store
Have we of books, as bees of herbs, or more:
And the great task to try, then know, the good,
To discern weeds, and judge of wholesome food,
Is a rare, scant performance; for man dies
Oft ere 'tis done, while the bee feeds and flies.
But you were all choice flowers, all set and dressed
By old sage florists, who well knew the best:
And I amidst you all am turned a weed!
Not wanting knowledge, but for want of heed.
Then thank thyself, wild fool, that would'st not be
Content to know--what was too much for thee!