Sunday, December 2, 2012

A library (and a past life) in thirteen orange cartons

Earlier today, I took my entire collection of books to a local coffeeshop which has a used bookstore attached, and donated all of them to the bookstore.

Over the past ten years or so, I have accumulated a sizeable collection of books; thirteen orange cartons of them, to be more precise. I had brought some of them here with me when I moved here from Singapore; most of them were purchased during the eight years I spent in graduate school in Florida. They range from philosophy books (Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, as well as secondary literature and commentaries) to works of literature (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Yukio Mishima, Haruki Murakami, Rabindranath Tagore, Charles Dickens, and others too numerous to mention here) to science fiction (Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, Harry Turtledove).

Over the last few years, I have been lugging these thirteen orange cartons of books across these United States as I moved from one teaching position to the next, hoping to someday unpack them and give them a proper home in a nice library when I finally "settle down" into a permanent position. For the past couple of years, they have been resting (peacefully?) in these thirteen cartons in my garage, accumulating dust and never seeing the light of day. Nevertheless, in some funny corner of my mind, I still cherished this desire that they might someday find a more befitting resting place in my presence: I had this vision of them resting snugly in polished bookcases of varnished oak in a well-ventilated study with wood-paneling and a handsome sturdy wooden desk. And me, the proud owner of this library, sitting at this desk and sipping coffee while perusing through this repository of collected human knowledge.

A few days ago, faced with my impending move to Idaho (see previous post) and the prospect of lugging these orange cartons across the country yet again, I suddenly discovered that, without my being fully aware of it, my desire to live and travel light has at some point become much stronger than my desire to be the proud owner of a beautiful library. I realized that the need to possess many many books just isn't so important to me anymore. Perhaps the physical effort and the financial cost associated with moving thirteen orange cartons across the country has finally taken its toll on me. But also, perhaps more significantly, I have come to feel that what one knows and what kind of a person one is as a teacher, scholar, and human being has nothing to do with the size of one's library. It has everything to do with, well, what one is as a teacher, scholar, and human being. In any case, I have also discovered over the past couple of years of writing this blog that if you have that grey matter between your ears, you can easily find information you need on the internet at your fingertips (literally). If that grey matter isn't there (or isn't doing what it's supposed to do), no well-appointed library will make any difference.

Anyway, it is with these thoughts in mind that I decided to donate these thirteen orange cartons to the used bookstore. As I brought the books into the bookstore, I saw the eyes of the bookstore clerk light up as he unpacked and looked over the books, many of which are in very good condition. I am very happy that they are in the good hands of somebody who clearly loves books, and am confident that my books will enrich the intellectual and spiritual lives of many in their new home. Thus, although I am now thirteen cartons of books poorer, I am also thirteen cartons of books lighter, both physically and emotionally.      


  1. There must be a few you didn't part with, no?

    What's your "desert island" reading list?

    1. It would be anything by Haruki Murakami. But even those I parted with--except for Dance Dance Dance, which I am re-reading now. I guess getting rid of one's library is a bit like drowning one's kittens (sorry, I can't find a less ahimsa-violating analogy off the top of my head).

    2. You really need to get a Kindle or an Audible account so you don't go through this loss again! I envy your lightness and mobility as I am someone who is bogged down in "stuff".

    3. I have a kindle app on my laptop, and have also toyed with the idea of getting a kindle reader, but--maybe I am a romantic in this way--I just feel that the kindle feels a bit too clinical and lacks the old-world charm of holding a book in your hands.