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.”