Books, Favorites

Books


books

I remember the day Evan and I packed up our books.

We were recently married, moving to the New York City 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 yellowed white couch on the sidewalk for bulk trash. We saved the books for last, because there were hundreds, and needed to clear the floors to make space for the task.

It took longer than expected, because what began as packing with the occasional pause to reminisce about a favorite author, evolved into frantic searches for favorite passages and lengthy readings. I’d recite 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 princes at Juilliard. But though his knowledge and handle on the text was greater than mine, we were an equal match when it came to the passion we felt for literature.

It was midnight when we hoisted the last box onto the moving truck, and we still had to drive 30 minutes to Montclair, unpack, and return our crummy U-Haul by 8am. When we arrived, essentials were taken to the appropriate rooms, and non-essentials, like books, were stacked in storage.

We intended to purchase shelves and turn our guest room (oh yes! a 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.

A few years later while packing for a 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 in years took up more than half of the room. We had spent weeks ruthlessly editing our possessions, yet here were these 20 boxes of books. They were like one big middle finger to feng shui.

One year later, we moved the books again. We were back from Paris and settling in to our new home in Glen Ridge. For another year they collected dust in a closet on our top floor. During breakfast one day, I tried 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 always 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.

I went upstairs and edged my way into the back of our storage closet where we stored the books. What began as a focused expedition to find my Norton Anthology turned into a lengthy reunion and a great unpacking. I called Evan upstairs and we spent the afternoon reconnecting with 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 in the time we had last held those books in our hands. But what struck me more was that I had spent six years filling my thoughts with the banal logistics of daily life, preachy advice in parenting tomes, obtuse investing how-tos or social media noise. In figuring out and living my adult life, I had 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 unpacked 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 back downstairs and collect the parenting books. I tossed them all into a box, sealed it shut, walked back upstairs and put it in the back of the closet to collect dust.

We ended the day with fourteen piles of books divided by genre or period. We agreed our favorite pile was the books we planned to someday read with our kids.

- – -

Nichole Robertson
Updated for Medium, originally published June 7, 2010.

34 Comments

  • When I lived in Bangkok, my books were the last things to be packed when we were moving to our next assignment. My now xh suspected that we would be over our weight limit with them, so he left me there with no furniture to watch the weigh in. He and the children slept at the InterContinental and I slept on the bare teak floors, but all my books were saved.

    My 2nd husband is much more understanding and has his books everywhere, just as I do.

  • What a great post…. I recently dragged home a stack of books from the 'free store' that were discarded from the local university library… such a lovely and odd collection of thoughts.. Burroughs, Bronte, and Shaw to name a few… lots of happy reads ahead. And good call on the packing up of parenting books… I always find that sort of advice stifling…

  • Oh, I love this, Nichole. I never feel truly at home in a place without a few favorite books around. And it's nearly impossible to "weed out" or "cull" them…especially the most beloved ones.

  • Thank you for this beautiful post. My fiance and I spent the better part of this weekend trying to find room for our enormous collection of books. Neither of us can part with even one, it seems. We have put bookshelves everywhere in our home – our bedroom, the guest rooms, the living room and even the dining room. I know that once children enter our lives it will become hard to justify the space these precious tomes take up but for now they happily fill our home.

  • We have a whole room full of bookshelves, and the carpet has a trail worn through it. Looks nasty. We were talking this morning over breakfast, and we both weren't looking forward to moving all the books out of the way — have some in there since our college days. And some from childhood, including The Black Stallion and Little House on the Prairie series.

    But now I will think of your post and smile — can't wait to show my sweetie. :)

  • Not so bookish people wonder why bookish people buy books instead of borrowing. I thinks it is because we like to have these good friends around us whether we ever read them a second time or not. Falling in love with characters and stories makes them a part of our lives; past, present, and future. Thanks, I think I'll close the laptop and open a book!

  • this is a gorgeous post. our books have travelled the world with us and now that we are 'back home' in melbourne, australia, majority still have to sit in boxes until the glorious day we finally get around to having in-built floor to ceiling shelves. our two little boys are avid readers which means that we are accumulating more by the second, but i cannot part with any of them. i could tell you where i got every book and where i was in my life.

  • "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."

    beautiful

  • My husband has never been able to understand why I both keep and reread so many of my books. I think that if I was stranded on a desert island books would be the things that I miss the most (apart from a glass of cold white wine). Both my children were great readers and I think that it's kind of sad that reading has almost become a thing of the past for so many children. Great post!

  • Lovely post! I'm moving later this year and am not looking forward packing and hauling my books again. Parting with them is unthinkable though. I'll bear with the moving madness for now and think of the time I'll be able to store them in a future home with a proper (ultimate fantasy) library where they'd stay put at last.

  • I enjoy reading and have felt the power of words rattle me in my core but I don't think I have this deep of a connection to books. My daughter does. All her life (she is 24) her books, read and waiting to be read, have been her most loved treasures. A few years ago we were moving into our current home and I was storing mountains of books she couldn't let go of. I forced her to get rid of about 6 boxes. I don't think I understood. Now, after reading your post, I feel the urge to go out and get them all back for her.

  • That was THE best post I've read in a loooong time, which is saying something because I read a few hundred blog posts each week. What a lovely glimpse of a happy life.

  • This has to be the best post I have read this year.

    When we moved to Indonesia for missions work we hauled over 2000 books with us. No joke. My mom is a teacher and father is a minister, so book love is an addiction in this household. Every family member has over 500 of their own books. My dad has thousands. We have two library rooms at our home, and the walls of my fathers office are bookshelves.

    Literature is a way of life.

  • i love this. thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story. my bf and i moved in together this past fall and he lovingly hauled box after box after box, heavy with books, into our new home with a bemused expression on his face.

  • Can you please write a book, Nichole? I would buy it and probably talk about it like you just did in this post. Thanks for that :)

  • My husband and I moved 26+ boxes of books from Seattle to Lexington, KY, and we'll be moving at least that many from Lexington to Jackson, MS. Our occasional sales to Half-Price Books only serve to give us time to browse for something new to add to our library.

    Certain books require multiple copies, too–the beautiful hardback of a classic and its companion paperback that gets dragged all over town or loaned to a friend.

    Great post! Your photography is wonderful, also.

  • So sweet. I keep little trinkets, purses, and books for a future family. We haven't moved that much of our old things from my parent's house (oh my room is a storage unit indeed) but love that we'll collect a few new things too though not too much!

  • your post gave me goosebumps. i have a love affair with books like you. and want my future children to read as voraciously and passionately as i do!

  • One of my favorite posts I've read in awhile. Probably because my Nortons are currently packed away in the basement of our new home. And even though they've only been there for a few weeks, it's been too long.

  • @Brigid of FrenchLogic and amberlife-My father once asked (in a very beligerent way, I might add) why I re-read books. I was in a smart-ass mood and so replied, "How many times have you seen this episode of Seinfeld?"

    He hasn't bother me about re-reading again.

    Oh, and I did immediately apologize for taking a tone.

    I'd like to repeat what so many have said about this post: Beautiful.

  • Beautiful to all those that revere books – there is truly nothing like sitting nestled amongst your favourites! Thanks for the post , really enjoyed it. Going to have a glass of wine amidst mine now :)

  • What lovely post! I found you from the new steller site, and I couldn’t stop reading. I share your love for both books, and Paris at night – great images. Having travelled in so many countries, I keep coming back to Paris.

    But more than that, your books are like my memories. I’ve collected so many, but have kept them packed away, waiting for the time to share them again. Thanks for the reminder to enjoy our favorite things while we can rather than when we think we will be settled enough!

    Looking forward to reading much more here!

  • What lovely post! I found you from the new steller site, and I couldn’t stop reading. I share your love for both books, and Paris at night – great images. Having travelled in so many countries, I keep coming back to Paris.

    But more than that, your books are like my memories. I’ve collected so many, but have kept them packed away, waiting for the time to share them again. Thanks for the reminder to enjoy our favorite things while we can rather than when we think we will be settled enough!

    Looking forward to reading much more here!

  • Great blog! Do you have any tips and hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go
    for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely overwhelmed ..

    Any recommendations? Appreciate it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>