Packing Up

All summer, I’ve been avoiding the work of cleaning up my office. It’s not a horrible mess, but the shelves have books wedged in sideways, and it’s growing harder to find what I’m looking for. It got bad enough that I was more interested in analyzing why I felt so resistant to the work than in doing the work! Today I began, and I quickly realized what the issue was.

After my PhD graduation, I moved into academic publishing instead of into academia per se. Around that time, in conjunction with the birth of my elder daughter, I moved my office into our former guest room, so the office could become the nursery. It was a big shift, physically and professionally, and I cast off virtually all of the books I’d accumulated over four years of college and seven years of graduate study in English literature. Of course, it was a literal load gone (and a little diaper money earned at the secondhand bookstore); figuratively, it was a lightening, as well: a turning away from reading and analyzing books, and toward shaping them. I reasoned that if I were to want to revisit any of the books, I’d get them from the library. I haven’t wanted a single one. I set a rule that I’d spend money only on books I’d use for reference, and I accumulated a stack of dictionaries and style guides to shelve alongside the few remaining “reference” books from my studies: The Riverside Shakespeare, Hamilton’s Mythology, Holman and Harmon’s Handbook to Literature.

Most of my money, though, went toward accumulating a library of books on yoga and on endurance sports training. One day a few years ago, in a moment of procrastination in work on someone else’s manuscript, I turned and gazed at my bookshelf. VeloPress, VeloPress, VeloPress, read the imprints on the spines of most of the books. Hmm, I thought, and contacted VeloPress; a year and a half later, The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga was published. Now copies of my own books join the nonfiction on my shelves.

Today, as part of the housecleaning, I boxed up the books to which I’d contributed essays during my academic career; another box now holds the copies of the books I have edited thus far. I’m not letting go of editorial work entirely—Chicago 15, Words into Type, and Strunk and White keep their position close at hand—but I recognize that this packing represents a shift away from shaping others’ books and toward creating more of my own. Someday, I know, I’ll be packing up the books on sports; in time, I’ll be putting away some of the yoga books, too. Today’s been a good chance to practice nonattachment. Now back to the shelves.

One Response to “Packing Up”

  1. Becky Vartabedian says:

    Yes, Strunk & White has a prominent place on my shelf as well, next to Kate Turabian's "A Manual for Writers." Many, many books will come and go, but these two will likely be the mainstays. Thanks for this brief meditation on books. 🙂