Thursday, November 18, 2004


What do 500 books look like? Well, when you're moving they look like fourteen cardboard boxes. Fourteen heavy cardboard boxes that you have to walk down three flights of stairs. Fourteen heavy cardboard boxes that you have to load into a cube van (properly, to prevent shifting). Fourteen heavy cardboard boxes that you have to drive across the country (destroying any hope of getting even decent mileage). Fourteen heavy cardboard boxes that you then have to unload, carry into your new place, unpack, and put on the shelves (in a very particular order because you're such a giant freak).

Why do you keep them? Jerry asked this exact question in an episode of Seinfeld titled "The Ex-Girlfriend" back in 1991:

"What is this obsession people have with books? They put them in their houses like they're trophies. What do you need it for after you read it?"

So why can't you part with them? You've read them all, were inspired by them or not, made your notes when you felt the need, and put them on shelves (in a very particular order because you're such a giant freak). Approximately 80% of the books are never looked at again, so why not get rid of them? Give them to someone who will read them, who will put them on his shelf (in a very particular order because he's such a giant freak), who will never look at them again.

Perhaps you keep that set of Piers Anthony's Xanth novels to remind you of your awkward early teens. Maybe that motley assortment of occult books reminds you of your late teens, of a time when life still held mysteries. It was Fitzgerald who inspired you in your early twenties, and maybe that's why you keep a dozen of his books around. Your mid-twenties were filled with the works of Canadian authors, authors like Mordecai Richler, Timothy Findley, and Margaret Atwood - this might explain the large collection of Canadiana. And now, now into your late twenties? You're amassing a new assortment of books. Books written by authors with one name: Borges, Kafka, Beckett, Calvino, Yourgrau, Ballard.

And the books pile up. Perhaps next time you move you'll have twenty boxes. Thirty? Your wife tells you to quit buying books, that you're obsessed. You tell her you can't stop, and ask her why should you. You read them all, right? You pass a used-book shop and you can not resist the urge to stop in. Have a look around. They might have that book you've been looking everywhere for, that last Yourgrau book to complete your collection. It really has been elusive. You stop in, start in the Y section, and find that you're out of luck.

You do, however, find that Berkeley book you've been thinking about - for only three dollars! And you couldn't possibly pass up those two Robert Anton Wilson books - where would you ever find them again at that price?

You go home and, because you're moving, put them in a box.

The box serves a dual purpose:

1. It will carry these books to your new location.
2. It will temporarily hide your sickness from your wife.

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