The weight of my love for books
When we moved from one side of the country to the middle of it, from paradise to winter, we brought everything with us. Including 5,000 pounds of books.
Irrational as the Queen of Hearts, I punished my beloved books for their weight.
Charles and I, through rich times and poor times, have been frugal.
He does not collect expensive mountain bikes or technology. He hasn't bought a convertible. He wore the same brown jacket—which he only owned because I bought it for him—for 17 years. He only recently retired the jacket (by leaving it on a bench at the London airport, but that's another story).
I don't buy purses or jewellery and have never understood that female cliche. I don't want diamonds or gold. Our wedding rings are plain silver.
We are spendthrifts, however, in one area: books. Days into our relationship we discovered that we agreed on the value of books. While we weren't comfortable spending money on ourselves (Generation X guilt?) we put books in a category all their own. We treated them like a necessity. You wouldn't feel guilty paying the hydro bill, would you?
We don't have extravagant wedding rings, but we had a hell a lot of books. Our habit is deep-rooted. As kids, we were both what would have been called "book worms," although that term doesn't get used anymore. What do people say now? "Book nerd"? Surely not "bibliophile".
When we moved from one side of the country to the middle of it, from paradise to winter (that's another story too), we brought almost everything with us. We had never moved that far. Well, that's not quite true. We moved much farther when we moved from Canada to France in search of adventure, but that time we took only what could fit into our suitcases, making it closer to travelling than moving.
Our mental picture of the move was, therefore, uninformed by experience. I can't speak for Charles, but my mental picture was of some nice men rolling our tidy stacks of cardboard boxes into an enormous clean truck, everything fitting neatly and weightlessly like a game of Tetris.
The moving company gave us a quote for the move, and it was based on a maximum weight. As long as our possessions didn't weigh more than 8,000 pounds, we could take whatever would fit in the truck.
Unless you've taken all of your earthly goods, weighed each one on the bathroom scale then added up the total weight, you probably don't know how much the contents of your house weighs. 8,000 pounds sounds like a lot, right? (Is this another female cliche, not being able to guess what things weigh?) The only time I weigh things (as opposed to myself) on a bathroom scale is when my suitcase seems heavy and I don't want to get charged extra by the airline.
We moved everything. It was a horribly busy time for both of us. I was in the throes of writing my first knitting book in one province, while Charles was starting his dream job in another. Our goal was not to pare down our stuff. Our goal was to get our stuff onto the damn truck. We told ourselves, We'll sort it out when we get there. 8,000 pounds? Pfft. Who has 8,000 pounds?
You can see where this is going.
We moved the antique sewing table with the solid iron base. The extra sofa and chairs. And every single book.
Turns out, of course, that we didn't have 8,000 pounds of stuff.
We had over 13,000 pounds of stuff.
I know I can't blame it all on the books. But books aren't light.
A paperback weighs about a pound. Big hardcover textbooks can be 3 pounds, easy. And every pound over the 8,000 pound limit cost us 50 cents.
I went through a phase after the move of resenting books for their heaviness. I would look at some paperback that I had never enjoyed or finished and think, You cost me 50 cents, you bastard.
I dragged our boxes of books into the middle of our new living room and gutted them. I was ruthless. Was I going to read this book again? Did I even like this book? More important, did I love this book? No? Off with its head!
Irrational as the Queen of Hearts, I punished my beloved books for their weight. For the move. For the winter in this new place to which we had dislocated all 13,000 pounds of ourselves.
Many of the books that the moving men had schlepped into the truck, Charles schlepped out of the house to the alley behind the charity shop. Like so many unwanted puppies. But I hardened my heart.
I didn't stop reading. And I didn't stop collecting books either, only physical books. I bought a Kindle, after struggling to read on a tablet. Tablets are heavy and too bright and not right for reading books, in my opinion. Too slippery. The old basic Kindle, although the tech looks clunky and there is something cheap and nasty about the black plastic, is practical. The battery lasts for weeks and I don't know what the storage limit is because I'm nowhere near it.
I praised myself for being so practical. I could get rid of all the heavy books and heavy shelves and never look back.
Again, you can see where this is going.
I've never been able to stick to Tough Love. I am not the Queen of Hearts.
A book is a flexible mirror of the mind and the body. Its overall size and proportions, the color and texture of the paper, the sound it makes as the pages turn, and the smell of the paper, adhesive and ink, all blend with the size and form and placement of the type to reveal a little about the world in which it was made. If the book appears to be only a paper machine, produced at their own convenience by other machines, only machines will want to read it.
Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style
If you too are a book worm, you know what Bringhurst is saying. A book is not simply a vessel for writing. It is an object of significance in of itself. It has heft, texture, smell, colour, memories. If you're a book worm, you can fall in love with a book that's written in a foreign language. Or a book that has no words at all. Books are more than the words they contain.
To buy a book is to invest in something important and lasting. It is an expression of self-identification and belonging. When you buy a book, you are identifying with others who feel the same way.
And there is a sense that you are giving back to some kind of physical machinery that creates the books. I know this is irrational. When I fork over my thirty, fourty, fifty, dollars for a book, the money doesn't go to funding paper and ink and paying the author. It probably adds to Jeff Bezos's giant pile of money. (When people are as rich as Bezos, I imagine they have cavernous rooms where they swim through their money like Scrooge McDuck. But that's irrational too.)
I couldn't stay angry at books. So, I let them back into my life.
Have I re-grown my collection of 5,000 pounds? No. I'm more discerning and definitely more ruthless. If a book doesn't make the cut it goes to charity right away. That way it can have another life. Our limited shelf-space means our book collection must be finite. And there are many books that I buy on Kindle. The weightlessness and instant gratification of digital books has changed how I read and buy books. Although my physical collection of books has slimmed down, my digital collection is massive. And if I really love a book on Kindle, I will buy the physical book as well.
So that I can feel the weight of the book in my hand and place it lovingly on the shelf.