Packing Books

I have begun packing my books, in anticipation of our move from LA to the Bay Area. We are in the final week of escrow on a new home in the Oakland Hills (about 5 miles south of the Locus House) and, while our home in LA has not yet sold, once escrow closes up north, I will pack up the cat and aquarium fish and coffee maker and my computer and few basic pieces of furniture, as much as I can cram into the back of our Subaru, and relocate there. I’ll be there while painters and carpet people redecorate for two or three weeks, until I come back to LA to meet the movers who will empty out our LA house and move all our stuff to Oakland.

In anticipation of the actual move, I have begun packing up my books. The movers would do it — the moving costs are covered by relocation — but I don’t quite trust movers to handle books (and magazines, some 60 years old or more, the 1950s F&SFs and Galaxys) as carefully as I would, and pack them as carefully as I can do myself. Plus, the process of taking them off the shelves, arranging them into boxes, is as much an extended meandering visit into memory lane as anything else I could do in such relatively short time.

The handling and preserving of all these books begs the question, why keep them? Collectors do; far many more casual readers do not. When someone comes into your home and asks, “Have you read all these books?”, you know they are not a reader. No, of course not. A library is — for those who don’t understand my point — a bit like a combination of a photo album and a pantry. Many books you keep because you have read them, they are physical manifestations of experiences in your life, some profound and life-changing; others you keep because you bought them intending to read them someday, and even now you still hope to find the time, even though you know intellectually (do the numbers) that will never get to all of them in your life. But the unread books are like all the other possibilities of life: identified but as yet unlived potential experiences.

In the past few months, anticipating this move, I have, in fact, culled my shelves of several dozen boxes of books, books that as I perused my shelves I realized I will likely never read, considering how many other more interesting books I might read instead, given the years I have left to read, and I have sold those off to used bookstores, or failing their interest, donated them to Good Will. I’ve done another round of both in the past two days.

Still, the movers will move whatever I have left, and I am packing them myself.

I think I might leave a couple bookcases of books for them to pack, just to see how they do it.

My boxes: every box is different. I have 150 U-Haul book boxes in my attic, kept from one or two previous moves, taken down in the past few days. Tape up the bottom. Typically hardcovers go in upright, in two facing rows across both ends; a few hardcovers or paperbacks fill the gap in between. Carefully rearrange depending on size, so the gaps can be filled without cramming, but also without loose space where the books would jostle against each other and scuff the covers. The space on top can be flat hardcovers, or flat paperbacks, in various arrangements depending on titles at hand. Titles do not have to be kept in exact order from the bookshelves; part of the fun will be unpacking and sorting them out at the far end. Fill as close to the top as possible, so boxes do not collapse from the weight of other boxes on top. Before closing, crumble packing paper in between the gaps; the closed box, when shaken, should evidence no jostling or movement at all. The complete consort of books and packing solid in place together.

I have 28 bookcases in my main office/library; I started packing today with books from the tallest ones, and the first two took about an hour each, about five boxes each. So 28 hours, 140 boxes, at most. That’s how I’ll be spending this next week. And there are 10 more bookcases (most double-shelved) of anthologies and back-issue magazines in another room downstairs… I will need more boxes, which the moving company will provide.

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