Thursday, August 26, 2010

Damaged in transit

I have been unpacking my library. Because not all of the bookcases have been built, I have just been getting the books out of their boxes in random order. The job has been slowed by the depressing sight of opening each new box. The packers for the van lines did not know what they were doing. My wife says they did not think of books as having any value. Although they wrapped our paintings with extreme care—only because they were framed behind glass, if you ask me—they tossed my books into the boxes any which way. They picked up whole rows and dropped them on their tails with the spines rubbing against the box. Then they piled books on top of them, regardless of any difference in the sizes of the books. The results are dozens of crushed, bent, cocked, and torn books, many with their spines rubbed white from bouncing up and down for twelve hundred miles.

My experience, then, has not been Walter Benjamin’s. Instead of being reminded where I bought a book, and the circumstances under which I read it, I am reduced to asking whether I can afford to replace it. The first edition of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays was a gift from an old flame, who inscribed it. Does it really matter if it now looks like my wife backed over it in a fit of anger? A hip and glossy study of abstract expressionism looks as if I had thrown it across the room repeatedly. As I recall, that’s pretty much what I wanted to do at the time. Has history been added to my library, or only mimicked?

“It is amazing how books can change the way a room looks,” my wife said. She was marvelling at the whole collection. I am distraught at the fate of a few.


Levi Stahl said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. I know that feeling: for the past nine months, we've had all our books in the basement as we have been showing our unit in hopes of selling it, and we lost a handful of books recently to a small flood. It could have been much worse, and nothing we lost was even close to irreplaceable, but the sight of a ruined book is depressing nonetheless.

Hopefully this feeling will fade as you settle in and have the rest of your library properly shelved around you.

panavia999 said...

oooh that's too bad. Next time you will know to pack your own books. I always figured if I needed to ship my books, I would pack them myself, shrink wrap on a pallet and have them shipped separately by a freight company. My busdiness experience is that palleted goods generally make a safe trip.
I moved hundreds of books into a barn while I was cleaning house, when I went back to check them, raccoons - they left enough dusty pawprints to identify the culprits - had pulled some of the lids off. Bats lived in the rafters and pooped on the opened boxes. Then there was some rain damage during a bad storm. Fortunately, that was only the top layer of stacked boxes.

A.J. said...

Are you saying that if you had all your books on Kindle, that things would have been much, much less traumatic?

How is your Kindle experience, by the way? You haven't blogged about it much.

Also, will you treat us to a picture of your new library?

D. G. Myers said...


I have blogged about the Kindle. Here, for example, I argued why it will not replace the “print-and-binding” book. Here I complained about its clumsiness in comparison to a printed volume.

The Kindle is good for straight-through, linear reading, of books you will never want to reread.

A. J. said...

What about Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer? I bet you want to read that book more than once on the Kindle, no?

R/T said...

There is, is there not, an opportunity to reflect upon the impermanence of objects versus the enduring value of other matters (without intending a play on the word "matter").

To state the issue in a different way, how does the physical object (even when damaged) alter the emotional and aesthetic value of your experience with all that the object represented?

Although I cannot put my finger on them now, I seem to recall some comments in Ecclesiastes that speak to the value of the spiritual and emotional rather than the temporality of physical objects and existence.

None of this, of course, diminishes your sorrow (if that is the correct word), and do not doubt that I share your pain (being someone who also irrationally loves books, especially in their physical form), but I restate my argument that this is an important moment.

setnaffa said...

Sorry to hear of your book trauma. I can relate (but I won't bore you with the details).

The important things in life are all intangible. Perhaps this experience, however distasteful and unpleasant, shows us all not to get too attached to the things that will one day be gone...

May the Lord make His Face shine on you...