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?