Mooncalf wrote a blog post today which hit home. “I have looked through my books,” she wrote, “and I need to get rid of some of them.”
Almost four years ago I uprooted myself from Denmark. I packed twenty-four boxes and my suitcase, and I moved across the North Sea. I moved from my own two-bedroom flat to a flat I shared with others. Most of my belongings languished in unopened boxes until Other Half and I found the apartment where we now live. Twenty-four boxes. Fifteen of the boxes were filled with books.
In my Copenhagen flat I had a wall of bookshelves and the bookshelves were packed. I had books stacked on the window sills, on top of chairs and, yes, on the floor. I had books in the attic too. In other words, I had to choose between my books: which ones were important enough to go on that journey with me; which ones could be replaced; which ones were unimportant enough to simply be given away?
I bought small stickers and started sorting my library.
Green sticker: you will come with me, you are part of me, we will never part. Yellow sticker: I need to think about us; it is complicated; will I find you again in a dusty secondhand bookshop? Red sticker: sorry but we are over; it’s not you it is me; you are replaceable; what was I thinking?
I left eighty per cent of my books behind me when I moved.
Regrets? I have a few, and not too few to mention. I gave away books I never thought I would read or re-read and now I often find myself running my finger along the spines looking for that Angela Carter novel I once began but never finished. There are huge gaps where Henry James and Charles Dickens used to reside. I really regret getting rid of my literary theory course books because I had some fabulous marginal notes and now that my brain is wasting away, I would love to curl up with Plato and those marginal notes.
And do not get me started on why I brought a standard paperback edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses with me, but got rid of all those Georgette Heyers I have had to re-purchase. Self-delusion, I think.
Nowadays my library has mingled with Other Half’s. We have a lot of Iain Banks, Douglas Coupland and William Gibson where once I had very few or none. We are running out of shelf-space once more (I have a cunning plan called “two-books-deep shelving”) and I despair at Other Half’s tendency to not put books back where they belong (I try to keep our fiction books alphabetised by author and under each author by date of publication).
And I feel haunted by books past because when I am standing in front of the bookshelves, I keep looking for the books that got away.