Thursday, June 14, 2007

Packing Dust

Some of you may know that I'm being evicted next month. Those of you who didn't, learn it now. In a few bare weeks, we must leave our isolated little house on the prairie after three years of strange smells, damp stains and bliss. No neighbours, no traffic, no noise except the endless guttural moaning of sheep all around us. A large sprawling garden. We've adored living here - it's a dream house for a writer, especially one with noisy children - but the landlord wishes to sell, so that's the end of that.

I've been skirting round the dreaded act of packing for the past few weeks, buying boxes and packaging tape, chucking away non-essentials and drawing up To Do lists, but not actually rolling my sleeves up and starting to pack.

But today, all that changed.

I have now emptied two five shelf bookcases of their books - no mean feat, we're talking double rows on each shelf - and their spiders, spider corpses or skins, acres and acres of sticky cobwebs, and little scurrying creatures moving too fast to be identified.

Clearly, 'normal' people keep their bookcases dusted and in pristine condition, not to mention alphabetical order. But we're not normal. Most of our bigger bookcases lurk in dark corners and tend to be used by the kids - and the occasional adult - as a useful place for hiding toys, sweet wrappers, odd bits of paper, coils of wire, old telephone books, coins, Anglo-Saxon rune cards, empty crisp packets, plastic necklaces, spent batteries, rolls of cellotape, discarded teeth ... all of which are crammed between, behind, or on top of the books.

Then there are the 'forgotten' books on the top of the bookcase, the ones too bulky, heavy or tall to fit onto the shelves. The ones that spiders and their pale spindly-legged progeny really adore.

Ugh. Theatrical shiver.

Even now, hours later, I'm still itching. By methodically cleaning each book as I took it down and packed it away, I managed to get covered in a thin layer of dust and cobwebs myself. I was wearing a sleeveless top, so you can imagine the state my arms were in after two bookcases' worth. I had dust in my hair and mouth, and crooked spidery things clinging to my cleavage. I could even taste dust on the rim of my tea mug.

And though I started off promising to throw out or donate to charity shops at least 40% of these books, because we simply can't take all of them with us, I've ended up barely able to part with 10%.

It's all utterly ridiculous, of course. What on earth do I want with an ancient tome of recipes inspired by and illustrated with Toulouse-Lautrec paintings? Yet I can't bear to part with it. Endless tedious books on Kipling; I have no interest in Kipling, but they belonged to my mother, so what can I do? Ditto foreign editions of her novels, or half a dozen copies of each of her most popular paperback romances, all needing to be housed safely for future generations to ogle and admire. And until tonight I had no idea that we owned five different editions of Keats' poetry, in varying conditions of decrepitude.

But you never know. Books are fragile things. Fire, flood, divorce, will do for most of them. Better hold onto these different editions, just in case the worst occurs. Similar duplications of Donne, Milton, Pound, Yeats, Coleridge, Byron ... though no sign of Shelley or Wordsworth anywhere. Good taste prevails, thankfully.

Tomorrow I will tackle the least-used books in my study. No need for dusting here. But still the hideous dilemma of which books must go into storage - we'll be moving somewhere smaller - and which will make it to the new house. And to put my misery into grim perspective, this will be my seventh house move in seven years.


Reading the Signs said...

I can quite see why you would want to hang on to all the books. They are also a kind of house one builds over the years. Hope the move goes well.

Jane Holland said...

Yes, indeed. I have a close friend though who loves books but is utterly ruthless about them and is encouraging me to throw most of my books out and 'downsize' as she puts it - though she's quite well-off, so may not be too worried about replacing them in the future.

It's a little pathetic, but I do worry about giving my books away. I hate the thought of them being thrown into some skip somewhere, unread, or going to a bad home where they'll be ignored or battered about. As though books were like animals, for god's sake, and had feelings. What's that nonsense about?

There's a library book sale in aid of some charity or other this Saturday, and the public can donate books too. So I'm sorting out several large bags of books for them - mainly trashy novels, I'm afraid, but there's the odd gem there, non-fiction hardbacks and some classic novels of which I have two or more copies! I just hope someobody caring buys them and takes them home, that they don't end up on a scrapheap in the rain ...

Ms Baroque said...

Jane, with all the talk of spiders you've put me in the mood for Harry Potter!

You know what? Keep your mum's stuff. Trash anything you could easily replace in a second-hand shop. If it comes down to "six editions of this & that," keep two editions - one old/posh, one p/b for reference. Good editions/orange Penguins, keep. Anything you really love, keep.
But aim for at least 20% to go!

I've pretty much got mine to where it needs to be, and as RTS says, books are a house too. My familiar spines have kept me sane through the various vicissitudes.

Do you by any chance have a copy of The Brontes Went to Woolworths, by Rachel Ferguson, that you want to sell? Or Enemies of Promise by Cyril Connolly?

Bo said...

Oh Jane, I know how you feel and sympathise. Moving my books from Lake Street was agony: I couldn't part with any of them, and when my boyfriend said I should take some of them to a Charity Shop I nearly filed for divorce then and there. I have to move again in four months. I have eight hundred books on shelves in one room, and another thousand knocking around at my parents' house. I couldn't part with any of them.
Courage, bonne

Jane Holland said...

Our dilemma does rather point towards e-books as the way of the future, but how soulless! how dreary!

Maybe hologram books, which aren't really there but LOOK like they're there, might work.

I must post up my long poem 'Books at Auction' in a future blog post. One reviewer, Helena Nelson in Ambit, said she found it tedious and unable to maintain its tension, but I disagree. Poems about books. How could that be anything but marvellous!?

Yes, I shall post that poem up soon and then you can all judge for yourselves. And if it doesn't work, then I shall expect absolute dishonesty from you.


Jane Holland said...

'Fraid not, Ms. B.

It's off to Abe Books for you.


Ms Baroque said...

Oh, I've looked! It's a scandal. I was hoping you could make me a matter price...