Each time we move, some visitor inevitably stands in front of my bookshelves with an expression of horror, imagining that it will take me days to pack all my books. Lest you think I live in an immense library, there are only about 2500 books in the house, including all the children’s and YA books – so maybe just slightly more than in the average household…
Of all the things one has to pack, books are probably the easiest. At least the physical act of boxing them up. The psychological anxieties that accompany the process of placing of all ones beloved books out of reach for a few weeks, is, of course, a whole different story. One that I have to deal with on my own, since I prefer to spend the money on books rather than on psychiatrists.*
Unpacking 100 book boxes in the new home could lead to some amount of chaos. However, finding and shelving them anew is a cinch if you take the time to label the boxes properly.
My novels are organized according to language – English, Finnish, and German – and then alphabetically by author. So boxes are labelled, for example: Novels. English. A-C. Afterwards, all I have to do is find all the boxes labelled Novels. English, and it’ll take me less than half an hour to get that section shelved. Non-fiction is organized by subject, regardless of the language. History. Psychology. Cookbooks. Nature. Books about books…
Oversize / coffee table books are all grouped together, similar subjects next to each other just because they don’t fit on my standard sized shelves. They are mostly art and books about books (you know those luscious tomes filled with photos of magnificent libraries, both public and private)
The physical act of packing book boxes should be a routine job, a no-brainer of a task. Just keep packing books into boxes until the shelves are empty, right? That’s how a non-booklover would do it.
But unfortunately it’s not that easy. First off, while packing, I start noticing what cool books I have. Oh, I haven’t picked this one up for ages – and there I stand amid my boxes, leafing through photos of Alphonse Mucha’s paintings, getting lost in collected essays about eccentric authors, or discovering exotic recipes in Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist, even though the last thing on my mind is hosting a cocktail party.
Most of the books go into the boxes without any fuss. But here’s The Lord of the Flies and Max will surely want to read that before he leaves on his travels, so I put that aside for him. Or the Simone de Beauvoir biography which I absolutely have to re-read because I just finished Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Café which I adored. And while we’re on this little philosophy trip, how about Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder? Around the World with Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis – in case I’m in the mood for something light and funny but cleverly written. The Ghosts of Altona, a new Hamburg thriller by Craig Russell. Two favourite cookbooks. The atlas. My dictionaries. Also the new Spanish novel and my Spanish dictionary. (Who am I kidding? I barely have the time to read in languages I speak fluently right now, let alone devote hours to studying a foreign language.)
And so it goes until I have a tidy stack of packed boxes, but also about a hundred books which I cannot bring myself to put away because of the miniscule chance that I may want to read or refer to them before the moving truck comes. My mind tells me that this is completely delusional, but I just can’t bring myself to pack them just yet.
Now, two days before the move, I’m finally being rational about this. Common sense has kicked in and there are – after much deliberation and neurotic outbreaks of cold sweat - only twenty-three books left on the shelf. (I am staying in the empty house for a couple of days to clean things up, so I may have time to read in the evenings…)
* Liber medicina animi (Latin for ‘a book is medicine for the soul’)
(And this is how I cope with my problems!)