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  • Joshua Britton

Storing Half a Library

Several bookshelves did not survive my family’s recent move from Evansville to Louisville. This was especially unfortunate because we already didn’t have enough shelf space for our books. That we have a lot of books, my wife and I both blame the other. But really, except when moving, a lot of books isn’t a problem (there’s no such thing as “too many books,” contrary to what those who helped us move might say), but something to be proud of.

Everything had happened so quickly that we decided to rent for a year, rather than to buy, as we had done before. Once we committed to renting this house, smaller than our previous, we went into the actual moving process with the mindset that we were going to buy a house next summer and therefore move again. The packing process was miserable, as is the ongoing unpacking process. I’m not unpacking certain things (for example, I’m taking one for the team by not unpacking my baseball memorabilia box), and I’m also repacking certain things, already, in hopes of making next year’s move easier.

The books are the easiest to unpack and organize, an enjoyable and cathartic process. But because we were already out of shelf space, even before we lost three bookshelves during the two-hour drive here, little piles of books had accumulated in various corners of our former bigger house that I’d never gotten around to sorting—hardcover books in excellent condition my wife had picked up at thrift stores for next to nothing, or had paid no more than the cost of shipping through Paperback Swap, books that had gotten put into random boxes with unrelated items.

On the bookshelves in the above picture are R through Z, with some extra space on the bookshelf to the right where I’ve been gradually placing books on religion, on baseball (basically a religion), and Calvin and Hobbes. Books G through P are on the other side of the same room, while A through F are on a built-in bookshelf in the living room.

On the floor are books that are tentatively ticketed for storage until our next move. There are two full rows, plus the start of a third row. Since this picture was taken, however, that third row has grown as long as the others.

This has been 90% my project but I’ve tried to do my best to respect Emily’s taste; our tastes overlap a lot, but not completely. I’ve relied on her to make sure I’m not going to store away any books she intends to read over the next year. This is easy for Emily to determine as she follows a system to determine what she reads next: authors alphabetically beginning with A alternating with reverse alphabetically starting with Z. After a few years of that, she began a second iteration of this. She chooses what goes into the collection, and therefore which books she eventually wants to read, but when she actually reads them is chosen by the system. The last several books she has read were written by Gibbs, White, Rybszynski, Bernstein, Gibson, and currently Wharton, which will be followed by another R in reverse alphabetical order, and then another B in regular alphabetical order. Because of the system, barring additions to the collection, she already knows what her next ten or twenty reads will be. In addition to what I’d already shelved, she pulled several more books from the floor to sub onto the shelves, books she expects to read by next June with author last names beginning with W, G, R, and B.

I don’t do this. Occasionally I have trouble deciding what to read next, which makes my wife’s system look especially good. But if I want to read four Philip Roth books in a row, I’m happy to have the freedom to do so. What I put on the shelves rather than into storage is based more on what I intend or hope to read. Or, on the flipside, what I have no interest in reading. There are books that my wife and I likely may never read (Ulysses—storage), but also books I have read but seeing them on the bookshelf brings me joy (The Goldfinch—shelf). John Irving’s books take up a lot of space. Emily might get to “I,” so I’ve left out two that I’ve read that she’ll probably choose from when she gets there (she can choose which book to read by an author, just not the author), and I left out two that I haven’t read because I’ve been averaging close to an Irving a year.

Going back to books that bring me joy, I have thirty-two by John Updike. As much as I don’t want to, I’m putting twelve into storage. Jane Austen stays on the shelf. I’m also leaving out Jonathan Franzen’s fiction but storing his non-fiction. I don’t care that much about Bill Bryson but my wife likes him so half of our Bryson collection is going on the shelves. Ditto Alexander McCall Smith and Kurt Vonnegut.

I’ve even decided to get rid of a few—seventeen books so far. Seventeen books roughly equals one box, one fewer box I’ll have to carry next year. I never tallied how many boxes of books we had to move, but it would have been counted in dozens.

Once the books on the floor are boxed, where I’ll put the boxes is up in the air. And, even with the seventeen discards, we have way more books than I had realized. Finding where to put them once we move again will be another challenge. We’ll have to get some more bookshelves, too, hopefully nicer and sturdier than before.

But remember, if anyone ever tells you that you have too many books, well, they’re wrong.

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