Friday, June 11, 2010

Three moves equal a burning

I first learned the old saying from Peter Taylor’s 1964 story “The Throughway,” originally published in the Sewanee Review and then collected thirteen years later in In the Miro District. Harry and Isabel, a couple in their late fifties, are forced to give up the house they have lived in since they had first married to make way for a new throughway.

Harry succeeds in forcing a public hearing on the issue, “reveal[ing] himself to all the world as nothing more than a local crank.” His wife does not understand his stubborness, saying that it is “not natural for a man to care so much about a house. . . .” When the day comes to vacate, Harry phones the moving company and cancels the vans. Isabel is appalled; she cannot believe her husband has done something so stupid. And after a little more narrative business, it comes to pass that both Harry and Isabel realize that “all decisions, from that moment, were over for them.” They will be seen over, watched over, the important questions decided for them, as if they were “foolish old people.”

It is appropriate that only the old saying would stick with me from the story, which strikes me as strained and unlikely upon rereading. But the old saying is much in my mind as I prepare to pack up my books and belongings and move out of the house my wife and I had assumed that we would live in for the rest of our lives. We designed our own library in it, and for the first time in our lives we had a real library. In the middle is a massive desk that we had built for us; we could work there quietly in the evenings, facing each other across an expanse of papers and reference works. It is difficult to imagine, in fact, who might buy our house. For who else would this library be so perfect?

And now, instead of enjoying my last days in the wood-paneled sanctum, I must obtain bids from moving companies, arrange to shut off utilities, change addresses on magazine subscriptions, and plot a 1,200-mile route to a new city, a new house, a new array of shelves for my books. I can’t write about them as much as I would like for sorting through them, consigning as many as possible to the yard-sale pile, and recording the remainder for insurance purposes. Moving some of them again, I might as well burn them. But I can’t. I just can’t.

14 comments:

Jonathan said...

I seem to remember something about a router being purchased for the construction of shelves. Are these them?

D. G. Myers said...

No, I built a six-shelf, four-foot-wide bookcase for the master bedroom with it. It now houses part of my British collection.

Susan Messer said...

Then why are you leaving?

Sam Sattler said...

It must be heartbreaking to leave such a perfect room behind. I would grieve over that loss for a long time...sorry, not trying to make you feel worse.

Tommish said...

If you're looking to unload, say, a set of OEDs, I'll take them off your hands. What with them being so bulky and all, it just wouldn't seem right to truck them across the country; it'd simply kill your gas mileage.

D. G. Myers said...

Then why are you leaving?

“[N]ew city, new house, new array of shelves”—and new jobs.

D. G. Myers said...

Tommish,

My copy of the OED is the old compact version. My only real “bulky” “set” is the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, rightly described by Robert Grudin as the “queen of books.” Nobody is getting those twenty-nine volumes.

But I can let you have an entire run of Paul Elmer More’s Shelburne Essays, in a reprint edition, for not too damn much.

Paul said...

I remember that phrase from Benjamin Franklin. From whom he got it, I've no idea. If I recall correctly (and that would be a miracle), his saying was "three removes equals a fire." Skip the yard sale and give to Goodwill or a local resale shop that serves the challenged. The books then will have made a double/triple blessing.

Dan Moore said...

That's a beautiful library! I'm sorry you have to leave it.

Kerry said...

Condolences on losing the library. It is beautiful. But, I hope you eventually have an even better one in your new locale.

Congratulations on the new jobs! I hope the new city is to your liking as well.

Mayowa said...

That is a great library sir. I'm sorry you have to leave it.

Libraries owe as much to their creators and users for their charm as they owe to books. I am hopeful that you can recreate this special place in another house.

dglen said...

At the risk of sounding like a ghoul or funeral chaser, are you really having a yard sale? This is indeed sad.

Shelley said...

As a writer, a book I love is as much a companion to me as a person. Could you maybe think of leaving them as passing them on to other people--to be discovered?

Cipriano said...

Oh my God, that is such an absolutely beautiful Library...
Wishing you all the best, in your moving woes!