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July 26, 2006

A Ton of Books

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I have a ton of books to pack.


One ton.

Two thousand pounds. Plus.

Well, I'm fibbing just a little. They're nearly all packed already.

Boxed, actually. Boxed in U-Haul's finest "small boxes [that] are ideal for heavy items" that are 16 inches by 12 by 12.

In order to stack the boxed books, I've had to fill each box to the top so that the folded top flaps don't sag. These filled boxes are brick-like. For the hell of it I weighed one and it came to 55 pounds.

As of last night, I've filled 40 boxes with books. So if each box is 50-ish pounds, that means the pile of boxes in the middle of the apartment's living room floor must weigh a ton. So there.

This ton of books represents roughly two-thirds of the books I had when I got married a couple months ago. Some books went to the dumpster. Census data books I "willed" to the office where I work. Others I was able to sell to Powell's book store in Portland for just under $700 total.

Still to pack are lots of magazines. Some are 50-year-old issues of Time and Newsweek. Others are car mags such as Road & Track, Motor Trend, and various defunct titles. I also have quite a few aviation magazines and some early personal computer mags. A gal at the office suggested I try consigning them to an antique store.

I won't even speak about the 24 or so file cabinet drawers, many filled with census data for the USA and other countries that I Xeroxed over the years.

In case anyone is curious, I'll be retiring from work (but not from blogging unless Michael fires me) at the end of August. Most of my stuff will go to my wife's Seattle house, where we plan to live part of the time. And part of the time we'll live in her California house, so a few books will wind up there.

Aside from all those books I don't have many possessions, so that aspect of the move should be pretty simple.

Michael says he has no trouble tossing out books. I envy him.



posted by Donald at July 26, 2006


Having moved across the country last fall, this posting definitely strikes a chord with me. I remember when I moved from the Chicago area to Phoenix in 1991. I was being transferred, so the company I was then working for paid the freight. Moving was relatively simple because some strapping young men from the moving company could come in and pack everything up in an afternoon. But when my boss of the time looked at the invoice, he seemed puzzled by the entry for fifty boxes of books. "If you want to read a book," he said, "why don't you just get one from the library?" (Because the books I have, the library doesn't.) In fact, the boss had a trope of referring to any book in general, such as one that might be read for pleasure, as "a library book." It was as though he couldn't grasp the idea of owning a book as a part of one's personal possessions, and the adjective "library" had been permanently affixed to the noun "book" in his mind, probably since childhood and doing reports for schoolwork, as the only kind of book there was. Yet he was an intelligent man and probably one of the best bosses I'd ever had.

When I moved back from Phoenix to Illinois last fall, I was on my own. No strapping young men paid for on some company tab. And if anything, the amount of bookage had only grown during the 14 years since I'd last moved. So some culling and pruning were necessary. And I had to hire some friends to help with the move -- who ended up a lot less happy with me by the time we finished up than when we started since there were so bloody -many- and so bloody -heavy- boxes.

The Small U-Haul boxes Mr. Pittenger mentions got to be very familiar. I bought dozens over several months during the run-up to the move. And since each book is like a brick in itself, a filled Small box was pretty heavy. I learned the hard way that U-Haul's Medium-sized boxes were impractical for books. Sure, you'd get more books in one, but fill one up and you'd have a massive block about equal to one of the basic building components of the Great Pyramid (and which could be moved only by cracking a whip over the backs of straining peasant labor pulling on ropes).

I had to work out several informal rules for disposing of surplus books. Roughly --
1. Will I likely ever want to look at this book again? (Pleasure of rereading, need for research.)
2. If I ever do need it, is it easily replaceable? (A lot of routine, fairly recent science fiction, which can be had relatively cheaply at any used bookstore...)
3. Is there some other reason I might want to keep it? (Sentimental value, collectibility, hard or impossible to replace.)
Unfortunately, I'm not nearly as ruthless as I ought to be even in applying these informal rules, so my living room still looks like the local public library lost its lease and I'm keeping the books for it until a new building can be found.

When I went to dispose of what books I could part with, the local used bookstore in Phoenix leaped on my science-fiction books with a glad cry (though I think I was skinned alive for what it paid me anyway) but turned up its nose at the mainstream books (like Chuck Yeager's autobiography) that I would have thought would sell well, so I ended up donating a lot to the local library. Within a day or two, nearly everything I gave it was out in the front lobby in the dollar-sale bins...

Posted by: Dwight Decker on July 26, 2006 1:36 PM

I totally sympathize, having moved out of my home of 11 years a few months ago, and into my new husband's house, where I had to fit in amongst the things that were already there. I went from 9 large bookcases to 4, and it was very painful. The great beneficiaries were the graduate student groups on my campus -- they have booksales to raise money, and all during the fall semester I was walking by sale tables loaded with my books -- sniff. I'm trying, now, to shed as I go -- I'm putting some out at a yard sale this weekend. But it's not easy for us book junkies.

Posted by: missgrundy on July 26, 2006 1:47 PM

Yes, I belong in this company as well. Before the "small" U-haul boxes were available, I used whisky boxes. When I arrived here for my first teaching job in 1961 and the engineer (furnace operator, water systems) had to go get them at the train station in the school pickup -- which they filled -- he mock-surprise remarked that this new English teacher was one hell of a drinker.

The last time I moved (1999 to this house) I hired a couple of strapping lads who agreed to a fee of $200. Halfway through they said they could not go on without a 50% increase. It was an 18ft truck with automatic shift. I had to stop in Spokane to get someone to teach me how to cross the Rockies with an automatic.

If you figure that a really big bull buffalo weighs a little over a ton then, Donald, you had the equivalent of two buffs in your house. I used to urge myself on by remembering that the little old 5 ft. tall Blackfeet women used to skin and cut up lots and lots of buffs and didn't get to do it indoors, either.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on July 26, 2006 2:33 PM

Well, The Wife wouldn't agree that I have an easy time unloading books, that's for sure. She can't understand why I can't slim the collection down much further than I have. To the extent I've managed to be a little more detached about books than I once was, it's largely because I worked around book publishing for so long -- no better way of learning how to see books as product. I've made a little headway against some of my book piles by virtue of a simple trick: if I feel attached to a book but know I'll never use it again, I'll take a digital photograph of it and drop the pic in iPhoto. It's surprisingly effective (for me anyway) at enabling me to let go. The book goes to the dumpster or the used book store, and I have my nice little record of it, using up minimal hard-drive space.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 26, 2006 2:49 PM

I've moved books with me all over the country, and it's always key to remember which boxes movers will move and which ones I will. Their weight adds up pretty fast. It's the weight of my American Cinematographer mags that still surprises me on occasion. Those boxes are back-breakers.

Lift with your legs! (Or better yet get someone else to ;)

Posted by: claire on July 26, 2006 8:29 PM

"Some books went to the dumpster."

Aaiiiee! You're breaking my inner bookworm's heart. Whenever I moved, I always tried to sell the books I didn't need to the local used bookstore. The ones they didn't take I donated to the library. Throwing away books somehow seem sacrilegious.

Posted by: sya on July 26, 2006 9:13 PM

I've become utterly ruthless with books, having almost no space in my tiny Hong Kong flat for bookshelves. My current solution? Rules for retention very similar to Dwight's, but very strictly enforced, and keeping track of the 'library books' I've read using Library Thing, which is a truly excellent online database/cataloguing system.

Oh, and one other (not serious) suggestion, Donald: maybe you could sell all those old magazines to Lileks; he seems unable to resist their temptation!

Posted by: mr tall on July 26, 2006 9:44 PM

My son has been part-timing in the lawyers' office at nights, scanning the contents of the documents in (6)5-high lateral files for digital storage.

Once that is finished, he's available to relieve you of those 24 drawers of dead trees/census data.

Posted by: Tat on July 26, 2006 10:10 PM

This book "thing" is a convoluted mess at my homefront. I read, though not as voraciously as I once did. I buy and, unfortunately, at a greater clip than I read. Money's been spent, the books sit or lay about the house, their binders giving me the mal occhio everytime I slink by. "Not reading me...Again!" It's bad for my spirit just keeping them around. It's bad for the marital bliss having them clog up the feng shui of our humble abode.
And yet...I'm having major difficulties parting with them. Part of this is due to the "library" thing that Dwight Decker mentioned. As has he, I've checked the local libraries: they don't have these books. So, even I took up Michaels B.'s great suggestion (keep a compute image of the cover, like a saint's haloed relief, useful for glancing at the holy life...and probably never getting there), the actual parting of the possession aspect of the books is beyond me. Sometimes, I think a fire would be the best thing. Let nature or a Class 1 felony, say Arson, run its course and make the difficult decision for me.

My ever-loving wife has suggested my love (well, she describes it more as a pathological infatuation) of books is running neck-and-neck with my love for her. I keep the lips tightly squeezed. It's a rhetorical question that can only bring discussion of seperation (of me & her or the books and me).

Posted by: DarkoV on July 27, 2006 7:40 AM

Some scattered replies ...

sya -- The dumpster was the last resort for books I couldn't sell or dump off at the office as well as for some old, small-format paperbacks that were about to crumble to dust anyway. I fully agree that a book deserves a good home. But with limited time, I can't trek all over the place looking for places/people to give them to.

Mr Tall -- Interesting suggestion regarding Lileks. Sadly (for me) he seems far more interested in old motels and restaurants than car mags breathlessly speculating on the styling of forthcoming 1955 Fords and Chevrolets.

Darko -- Sounds seriously serious there. I suggest you go on Oprah to get some clues on tidying things up book/relationship-wise.

In my incipient household, my wife collects clothes as avidly as I do books, so it's hard for either one of us to finger-point.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on July 27, 2006 11:08 AM

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