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VALERIE SCHULTZ: Contemplating weight of my books


Columnist Valerie Schultz

Packing for a move is half torture, half adventure. You get sick of boxes and packing tape and decisions, but you also come across crazy beloved stuff you’d forgotten about and that induce dangerous levels of nostalgia. You pause, you remember, and then you think: Do I need to bring this into my future? How much of my past do I need to preserve? The bulk of my packing-induced angst, however, regards my books.

The moving estimate is for 12,300 pounds of property. As I assemble and box the volumes I’ve amassed over decades, from the shelves in the living room and the stacks in my office and the piles on my night table, I start to wonder if my books alone will add up to 12,300 pounds. And this is after donating six boxes of books to the local library. And it doesn’t stop with me: My husband may well own another 12,300 pounds of books.

I exaggerate, of course, but I am a little worried about what the scale will say when our moving truck is weighed. Between us, our belongings make for some heavy lifting. Unlike my husband, I am not a big collector of things: Early in our marriage, I had to shut down the rapidly spreading rumor, the source being my husband, that I collected salt-and-pepper shakers, just because I bought a pair shaped like dolphins while we were vacationing. I realized the enormity of the problem when, the following Christmas, I was given two sets of salt-and-pepper shakers. I was ungrateful but firm as I gave them away: I was not a collector. Salt-and-pepper shakers were not going to be my thing. But I do seem to accumulate books.

Books entertain and edify, as every reader knows. Books can transport you to another time, another place, another body, another mind. Books are essential to a writer, for research and resources, for instruction and inspiration, for the sheer love of literature and language. Writers also keep copies of everything they have written: I have 30 copies of my first, unsuccessful, out-of-print book. The storage bins fill up and the pounds add up, until there must come a reckoning, often in the guise of a move. But lightening the load by giving away those six boxes was not without an internal ache.

I have of course been schooled in the practicality and ecology of online books, the Kindle or the Nook or whatnot. I know the entire world can be contained in a slight, less-than-a-pound device favored by backpackers and travelers. Some women in my book group use a Kindle, and they often can’t coordinate with the page number of the actual book. I don’t want to be a Luddite: I really have tried to read a book for pleasure on a lighted screen. I’m just not that girl. I write on a screen, and when I’m done for the day, I want a real book. I want the paper and the typeset and the cover, the feel and the smell and the weight. Even if my books total 12,300 pounds. Book lovers know what I mean.

I’m writing about the heaviness of my books from a material angle, but maybe I should write about the heaviness of my heart from a maternal angle. I’m moving further away from three of my daughters, and closer to one. It’s not like I see these three on a daily basis, but knowing that I can drive a few hours to be with my darlings and see them and hug them makes the distance negotiable. Soon a plane ticket will be the smartest way to travel to visit the three, as it is now for the one. It’s a mental adjustment I am not enjoying. Sometimes I wish we were the kind of family who all live in the same town forever-and-ever-amen, who have Sunday dinners together and pop into each other’s houses and are all up in each other’s business, but that’s obviously not who we are. My husband and I both endured the insecurity of mobile childhoods. Although we vowed not to move around while our daughters were young, we have nevertheless passed our transient tendencies to them. Our roots are shallow in the ground, but I am grateful that they are deep in the heart. I love that my daughters follow their dreams. At the same time, I am feeling guilt for following mine so far away.

Back to packing. Back to reminiscing. Back to letting go.

Email contributing columnist Valerie Schultz at The views expressed here are her own.

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