Book Review (or, a life reviewed through books)

Monday is normally the day I post a book review. Instead, I’ve spent today sifting through boxes of books and the thought of writing a book review has been in my head all the while. But when I sat down at my computer I simply could not focus on one book. So, instead of getting a book review, you’re going to get a review of my life through books (and boxes).

I like to laugh when I say that my life is in boxes. We move house fairly regularly and the packing up, moving, and unpacking is a ritual that has led to many tears of frustration and sore muscles. I am 26 years old and I have lived in 22 different houses (I think … I may have missed some).

Don’t get me wrong; we’ve always lived in nice places and we’ve always had some interesting experiences in different areas. It simply is. I know a lot of people move house regularly for work or education or just because they can – some people love it, some people aren’t phased by it. I hate it. I hate having to move again and having to pack, unpack, pack … It got to the point where I’d only unpack things I needed “now” so I didn’t have to re-pack it again in a year. This is especially the case most recently as I’ve tried to keep my belongings “contained” because of the amount of travelling I’ve done. Not wanting my family to have to pack up and move my stuff when they have their own stuff to deal with, it’s been easier for me to have it in boxes ready for whenever they decide to move, in case I’m not around to pack it all up.

Three years ago I promised myself that one day I would have bookshelves to fill with my books, and they would stay. I would have not a house, but a library in which I slept, ate, relaxed and worked. It hasn’t happened yet, and it probably won’t for a few more years – yet I feel such a sense of loss that my books are in boxes, hidden away from the world. And today, I had to sort through all of my books into piles of “I’m never going to read this again and X might like it”, “I could definitely get some cash for this” and “I love you, I love you, I love you”.

Yes, it was as emotionally (and physically) painful as it sounds.

I started with the aim to reduce my 21 boxes to 5. My mother once sent me an article (which I cannot find now) that suggested you should get everything you own and reduce it to one single box. I’m pretty sure the author never owned any books so I feel 5 boxes is a very modest amount.

I opened the boxes and began with determination but now I simply feel lost, a bit hollow, and very sad. I’m not finished and currently I have 4 boxes of books lovingly re-packed and another 9 to go through. That’s 12 boxes down to 4. I’m doing very damn well, thankyouverymuch, thought it’s looking like I’ll have 7 boxes in total, which I can work with. Still under 10, right? Plus the cat. And some gorgeous framed pictures. (Shush.)

I know the books I’m selling and giving away will be loved – I have to believe that – but what about the ones I’m putting into the attic and abandoning? Should I be releasing them into the world to share with others, or can I keep them for “one day when” (which, lets face it, is getting further away each year)?

I have books that I’ve had since I was little (The Boy Who Had Wings), books from high school (Looking for Alibrandi and The Giver), and books from my University studies (Child Psychology texts and the entire works of Shakespeare … I have two copies of the latter, actually). Then there are the books I’ve bought on impulse to add to my “library” (The Medieval Warfare Source Book and Merchants of Culture), books with personal notes in the covers that make me weep (100 Love Sonnets and The Awakened Soul), books I’ve received for Christmas and birthdays (the entire Wheel of Time series), books I’ve bought for weekend binges (Shiver, Linger, Forever), and books people have bought me “just because” (It’s Not Always Black and White). I’ve even got books I’ve collected on a whim (Planet Cake and The Story of Stuff [no, the irony is not lost on me]), books I’ve bought to pass the time in the airport waiting lounge (The Count of Monte Cristo and The Reader), and books I’ve bought because they sounded amusing (Drink, Slay, Love).

Is it ridiculous to be so sentimental about paper?

I can tell you about when I first read Sky Legs (in bed the night before I had to write an essay on it, tears streaming down my cheeks as I finished it), when I purchased The Sex Lives of Cannibals (right before I went overseas in 2010 after a friend told me he imagined I’d travel and eventually write something like it), when I was given The Worst Case Scenario Handbook: Life (an ex-boyfriend, for Christmas – I cried with disappointment as it was accompanied with an alarm clock … Date a Man Who Reads, ladies), when I found Japanese Fairytales (in a second-hand bookstore wedged between some old, trashy magazines). Next to my bed right now is Eve by Anna Carey (I bought it after reading a promising review) and the next book I’ll read is the third in the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness (upon recommendation of my thesis supervisor).

Sifting through boxes I found an assortment of books, each with their very own memory (yelling at a boyfriend for the state of a Wheel of Time book when he returned it to me, reading The Book Thief late into the night at my dad’s house and having him look at me the next morning and know that the yawning was the result of yet another late night with a book, giggling about spending a weekend in bed with Philip Reeve while I churned through the Mortal Engines series) …

This is my life.

My life is in books.

My books are in boxes.

And they’re not coming with me.

Despite doing it many times in my life, “moving house” – or at least the act of putting my life into a box (or several) – makes me cry. And I mean the vicious, ugly crying that hurls your body into oblivion late at night when you just wish sleep would come to wipe it all away.

Today hasn’t been any different, though I’ve controlled the tears and attempted the act with optimism. Attempted. I contemplated calling Singapore to say I can’t come because my books can’t fit in my suitcases and I can’t leave them behind.

But I can. Right?

I have to remind myself that “one day” I’ll get my bookshelves and my books can come out and surround me – and I’m sure there’ll be more; my however-many boxes will surely increase. Because what’s in those boxes means something to me (and I haven’t even started on my magnet collection yet). Putting my life into one box is such a lovely concept, but I can’t shrink my life to be less than what it is.

And my life is in books.

And my books are in boxes.

And we’re OK.


12 comments on “Book Review (or, a life reviewed through books)

  1. Pingback: Literary Love | dodging commas

  2. Pingback: Quality Over Quantity « dodging commas

  3. ”I feel such a sense of loss that my books are in boxes, hidden away from the world.”

    This reminded me of when we moved to our new house. Even though we’d unpacked almost everything and the furniture were in place, for days I still felt antsy and unsettled. Then the new bookcase was finished, I dragged my boxes near it (I measure my books in cubic feet, too) and lovingly arranged them on the shelves. I can pinpoint that as the time when I finally felt at home. 🙂

    • I certainly equate books with home. What is it with us bookish types that we have such a “heavy” passion?! Hehe.

      I have a very modest selection of “favourites” to take with me. I have a less-than-modest selection of “books to read before I go” and am struggling not to order “just one or two” more books … argh.

  4. But ebooks aren’t the same? That’s how I feel anyways. Sounds like kind of a sucky situation. It might be nice if you could figure out some way of shipping them; personally, I’d do anything I could to bring most of them along for the ride.

    Whatever happens though, hope it works out 😉 .

      • I squashed four books into my suitcase for Canada. I have another 30 on my iPad. I know it’s not the same (I did a whole subject on this at uni: Digital research & publishing) but I would be taking this an opportunity to create your own library in Singapore 🙂

      • Oh, I don’t need encouragement to start another library 😉 I think I will be selective in my books, and I may even find a public library to join so I can save money AND satiate the book-beast immediately rather than waiting for books to arrive by mail.

    • Aw, Lou – I only judge your grammar, not YOU!

      I’m flirting with the idea of an eReader for Singapore so I don’t have to bring books back … but … but … but …

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