I remember the day Evan and I packed up our books.
We were recently married, moving to the NYC suburbs, and in the middle of a purge-induced adrenaline rush. We parted ways with dollar store kitchen utensils, tossed all 90s fashion, and left our used-to-be-white couch on the sidewalk for bulk trash. We saved our books for last, because there were hundreds, and we needed to clear the floors before we took them off the shelves and put them into boxes.
It ended up taking longer than we had time for, because what began as packing, evolved into favorite-passage-swapping. I’d read something from Philip K. Dick’s Valis, and Evan would offer something from Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. From there it escalated into some kind of Shakespearian Jeopardy.
“I’ll take ‘Princes Who Dodged the Bullet’ for $1000, Alex.”
Of course, Evan kicked my ass. While I had merely read Shakespeare in college, he had spent a lot of time playing those princes at Juilliard. But though his knowledge and handle on the text were greater than mine, we were an equal match when it came to the passion we felt for our favorite writers.
It was well past midnight when we placed the last box on the moving truck, and we still had to drive 30 minutes to Montclair, unpack, and return our crummy U-Haul by 8am. Essentials were taken to the appropriate rooms, and non-essentials, like our books, were stacked in storage.
We intended to purchase shelves and turn our guest room (oh yes! a real live guest room!), into a library. But before that happened, a baby happened, and the guest room became a nursery. And once our son arrived, I had no time to think about 17th century literature or shelves.
Last year while packing for our move to Paris, we shuffled the books from our basement to a rented storage space. As we stood surveying the 10×10 room that would safeguard everything we still owned while we moved overseas, we laughed. The books we hadn’t seen, touched or read in 5 years took up at least half the room. We had spent weeks ruthlessly editing our possessions (“if we haven’t used it in 6 months, it goes!”), yet here were these 20 boxes of books. They were like one big middle finger to feng shui.
It was one year ago that we moved the books yet again. We were back from Paris and settling in to our new home in Glen Ridge. For a year they collected dust in our closet on the top floor. During breakfast yesterday, I was trying to recall a line from Matthew Arnold’s Sweetness and Light, and decided it was time to stop depriving myself of my favorite Norton Anthology. While Google is good for a quick, cheap fix, I wanted more. I wanted my notes in the margins, I wanted all of my favorite words together in a beautifully bound book, I wanted to reconnect with the people who connected me to the person I wanted to be back then.
What began as a focused expedition to find my Norton Anthology quickly evolved into a blissful leafing through our books. I called Evan upstairs and we spent most of the afternoon rediscovering the words of our favorite authors. We were shocked that it had been six years, that we had two kids, that we had built careers and started a business. But what struck me the most was that I had spent six years filling my thoughts with the banal logistics of daily life, preachy parenting tomes or investing how-tos. In figuring out adult life, I had little time to question what Simone de Beauvoir saw in Jean Paul Sartre or why Wordsworth was able to so eloquently convey the flapping of a bird’s wings.
While we spent hours unpacking our books, our two sons played in the adjacent room. I overheard bits and pieces of conversations about Egyptian kings, dinosaurs and a magic tree house. I had the sudden urge to go downstairs and collect the parenting books. I packed them into one of the empty boxes, sealed it shut and put it in the closet to collect dust.
We ended the day with fourteen piles. Books divided by genre or period. But we agreed our favorite pile is the books we plan to someday read with our kids.