Boxes and Boxes of Books

I’m convinced that historians hate moving. At least a certain part of moving. It happened that within the same period of a couple months that I moved, a few of my colleagues were also moving. While we rejoiced with each other about new jobs, the fun of settling in new places (and finding new libraries), and setting up new homes, we commiserated about the boxes of books.

While I can’t speak for my friends, I can tell you that I had over thirty boxes of books. Mostly Civil War, but a few others that I could not bear to leave behind. Thankfully, some teens from my church’s youth group were able to help me haul the boxes into my new place!

So…why move thirty boxes of books? Why not just buy a Kindle and have everything there?

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of electronic readers. I like to hold a book. I also learn and remember where I see things, meaning I may remember that a particular account is about one-third through the book, on the upper left corner, maybe five pages after the fourth battle map. I just find it difficult to remember places and positioning from a screen.

I can mark my place in a research book, prop it on my desk, and work away. No toggling between screens to get the information.

Most of my books have a “story.” What? Of course, books have stories in them, but I mean about them. Where I got the book or who gave it to me. A few years ago, I started writing a little note in the front of each book. Where I got it. Or why I bought it. I love it when an author can sign a book for me and I’ve even been known to have the transcribers of the published primary source sign the printed copy for me. Some of the books are associated with memories of travel. Some were gifts. Some have been cried over. Some have nearly got chucked across the room. (That doesn’t happen very often to books I keep, but sometimes…) Some have been propped open for late night hours on end while I wrestled with history accounts, trying to understand what really happened.

In short, when I moved over thirty boxes of books, I moved boxes of memories. Memories tied to learning, leisure, and the pursuit of knowledge. Memories that I need for my work and also for my home and sense of place. There’s something homey and comfortable to sit on the couch and look across at a well-stocked bookcase wall…

Without getting too serious or literal, I do think there’s some truth in Thomas Jefferson’s proclamation:

“I cannot live without books.”

How many boxes have you packed? Or how many do you estimate you would pack if you had to move? Do you have favorite memories associated with a special book?

Your historian,

Miss Sarah

3 comments

  1. Oh Sarah! If there was a “MeToo” for books, I’d be right there. I have a different situation however. No one expects to get old. It just happens. Suddenly you look in the mirror and its MOM!! Or Grandmother! EEEK! My parents both died within the last few years and they were lucky enough to be able to stay in their home until the end. Nevertheless, that left a lot to be done. After the heartbreak of experiences like selling my mom’s wedding sterling, I decided I would downsize my own stuff. So–books! I looked at each one and asked myself if I was ever going to research the topic or the person again. If the answer was negative, it went into the GoodWill bag. If it was yes, then I kept it. I really weeded out battle books, keeping all my First Bull Run stuff, the maps, etc. No more Custer, but I kept the Buford stuff. I kept everything Ellsworthy, political, and silly. Of course I kept everything about John Hay & George Nicolay, and historic baseball. I kept stuff about women, and Walt Whitman–I kept everything inscribed to me personally. There is a lot I kept. But I got rid of maybe 1/3 of the library, and I will keep at it. I just don’t want to hear my stepkids cursing me as they paw through everything.

  2. I can relate to your many boxes of books, since I had a water problem in my basement. It will allow me to sort them. My favorite books are the ones that are signed by the author. I am so glad that you wrote the book, “Call Out the Cadets” and that I have signed copies. I have had a lot of fun giving them to authors, who come to my round table. I have a copy of the book, “Shiloh Bloody April” and it is signed by Wiley Sword personally to me. Sarah has changed my view of the Civil War by her writing not only of the battle, but of the personal side.

  3. The last time we moved, we only had about 2 full bookcases to pack. I don’t remember how many boxes, but I remember all the times I’d find another book lying around the townhouse that I’d have to pack separate from the rest. Since then. we’ve filled 5 more bookcases and I can’t even fathom the monumental task of moving again (which will be in the next year or so anyway). Like you, I prefer paperback or hardback for referencing. I can still “bookmark” in an e-book, but it’s not the same and I enjoy seeing all my colorful tabs for topics, quotes, maps, etc. I have a select favorite collection of fiction, but I cherish my antique books that have either been passed down to me or picked up from thrift stores. I’ve got a few dated back to the late 1800s.

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