I’ve started to pack away my books. We are moving. The timeline is a bit hazy so I am not sure when exactly we are moving but I know that we are moving. Packing again. Always packing. I don’t think many of you know how many books we have. Between paperbacks and novels, science books, art books, magazines (vintage keeps) and my father’s books, there is a lot to put away. There are the comics too. Bookcase full of them. God. I don’t even want to go through it all. I still have books leftover from before we even moved here, from the original move last year, and those are all sitting in plastic containers out in the storage shed. Those are mainly music books, stuff on the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Glenn Gould. I have a whole container filled with books about the great wars. Time Capsules. Plastic containers of my personal history, intertwined with that of others.
I have lived among books my entire life. My father collected old books. He was a collector and his collection was quite vast. We moved so much throughout my childhood and I can empathize now with the sheer weight and volume of lugging all those books around from house to house. I don’t have memories of carrying them. I don’t have memories of him packing them. But they always existed in the background of our lives; bookshelves stuffed with old encyclopedias, books ranging from the 1600 up until the recent past. My father was a man who only ever read the classics so I was surprised to find, after he died, an old copy of The Exorcist (I ended up trading that book away and regret it immensely now). How he knew of the movie, or why he took an interest in that book, I cannot say but there is was, among his books on Spinoza and the great Pharaohs of Egypt. My father was a man who was always looking for a way to get rich. I remember how he used to collect rocks and search through the shallow parts of rivers, looking for gold. He only did this in British Columbia, as far as I recall. We lived out on the Victoria Island when I was very small. He searched for riches in the precious stones he collected and when we moved away from British Columbia, he continued to add to his collection of books. He was born in Communist Romania to a very poor family of farmers. They were so poor that they shared shoes. It is the kind of poverty that belongs to whole different century. The scarcity of this life, painful to hear it about in my childhood, only makes me wish I had been able to ask more questions when I had a chance. But I was young and stupid, and besides; we only ever want what we cannot have. His father was a terrible alcoholic but he loved knowledge and birds. My father grew to love the same. Was it an inevitability that I would turn the way I did? Some bookworm, obsessed with birds, exhausted of carrying all these books around from house to house but also unable to let them go? Is it hardwired behavior? Where to we begin to piece together the pieces of an obsession?
It isn’t that we don’t we don’t know better but life is complicated. My father was complicated. Maria Kundo has people freaking out. She wants you to give away your books. People say how?!? She means well. She wants us to reflect on what the books mean to us, in addition to all the other crap we own, and it can be emotional. I have a few baskets to trade in and that’s as much as I can get to right now. I read a lot. We use reference books all the time. And many of the books are worth more in our possession than if we were to trade them. So here I go again, taking stock of them. But this my burden. It is a familiar and inherited burden, bittersweet and beautiful. The plastic containers are all full now, the shelves empty. Dusty shelves. When my father died, he left behind bookshelves filled with antique books. The reality is that many of them were too damaged to be worth anything. Those with value I took with me. Those with sentimental values and other that I recognized as being among my father’s favorite books, I took these home. The task of emptying those bookcases was overwhelming. His house was full of antique furniture and the basement contained vats of fermenting homemade wine. There was so much to go through and I did what I could. And in between trying to sort out all that stuff, I simply stopped and walked away. I know it was a shitty thing to do but people die all the time and they leave a house full of stuff. There would have been a system. I don’t know. I just couldn’t carry anymore with me and so I just walked away. I imagine that I may one do the same with all my books but that day isn’t today. I am happy to carry them. I am happy to feel the weight of them and know that they are mine. I look at the empty bookshelves and my heart aches. There is so much that I have yet to discover. So many books left unread. I know I will find myself back among all these stories soon but for now, looking at these shelves, I just feel sad.