“Every new book I read comes to be a part of that overall and unitary book that is the sum of my readings. This does not come about without some effort: to compose that general book, each individual book must be transformed, enter into a relationship with the other books I have read previously, become their corollary or development or confutation or gloss or reference text.”
—Italo Calvino, If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler
I’m moving to Brooklyn next week so my current apartment is in various states of disarray—the living room is empty save for a few boxes; the kitchen is cleaned and organized, each utensil and gadget categorized and placed in its respective box to make the move easier; the bedroom looks sparse, every surfaced washed of its life. Every surface except for the bookshelf.
I’ve been saving the bookshelf for last. If it wasn’t for my collection of books, I wouldn’t have much to pack at all. Aside of general living expenses, most of my money goes towards books. When I moved to New York a year ago, I had to decide what I could bring with me to my new, smaller apartment. My books automatically made the cut. I wanted to be near them, surrounded by them.
And now it’s time to pack them again to move across the river.
Scanning my spines on my bookshelf is like going over the tick marks of a timeline of my life. Each books contains two stories: the story the author want to tell and my story.
Each spine carries with it memories and every crease symbolizes a life well-lived. I see my Conversations with Woody Allen book and I’m reminded of reading those pages during the late nights of my summer in Nashville. I remember reading Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees in Union Square last summer before heading into the office. When I see Lust for Life, I’m taken back to the cold January nights in 2010 when I first read what would become my favorite novel. Books—too, it turns out—are little time machines.
I love walking into a friend’s home and scanning their bookshelves—the books one keep near them tells so much about a person—and when I scan my own shelves, I see my own history, each spine representing different, distinct moments in my life.
Books shape us and assist in molding us into the people we become. We use them to learn new ideas, to escape for a few hours, to get a glimpse of a different world. We absorb their words, scribble in their margins, and in turn, they add to us. They fill us up.
I’m packing up my library and rediscovering small moments I had previously forgotten. Like any good relationship, a book requires as much from me as I do from it. By giving it my attention, my time, my care, I give it life and allow it to become a part of me, building upon each moment before while pushing me into tomorrow.
I’m sitting in an empty room but my bookshelf needs to be packed. I’m packing up my library to push me into tomorrow, across the river, over to Brooklyn.