Unpacking A Passel Of Books

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So, it turns out I have two copies of “The Corrections,” by Jonathan Franzen, a popular contemporary novelist who I’m still trying to decide whether I like or not. I have no clue how I ended up with two copies but learned long ago not to spend too much time trying to cipher such matters. I simply put the pair together on the shelf with his latest novel, “Freedom,” the other day while unpacking books. Again.This is the fourth time in less than four years I have gone through the arduous process of book unpacking. Job moves have sent me hurtling around Texas and the Midwest, a middle-aged pinball zinging about — grateful for a job in these wacko times but flung about by the flippers of fate. I’m so grateful and optimistic, actually, that my Beautiful Mystery Companion and I just bought a house in North Austin.

Hence, the Moving of the Books once again, from the place I leased last fall.I am in the midst of one of those ugly cross-town moves that last for weeks and involve sloppy packing. The last three moves were company-paid and traversed considerable distance. This trek is self-financed, meaning I will move everything I can myself. My friends are grateful I have become, like them, too old to risk back injury moving the really heavy stuff, like appliances and couches. I’ll hire a crew for that. But the books are my bailiwick.

Unpacking boxes of books soothes me, somehow, though lugging them upstairs to the bedroom where roughly half will reside puts a strain on my legs. It invariably takes far longer than it should. I become distracted by this title or that, happen across old friends that I forgot about owning. This probably explains why I possess two copies of “The Corrections.”

I always come across books that I have not yet read — a result of years being mailed unsolicited review copies at newspapers where I worked, gifts from friends and family that haven’t made it into the “need to read soon” pile, books I bought but never got around to delving into. Having lots of books still unread bothered me when I was younger. Now I realize that I will croak without having gotten around to reading this or that book that has been on my shelves for decades. As the T-shirt on the rack down at Book People, my favorite bookstore on the planet, puts it, “So Many Books, So Little Time.”

A dear friend who died last January at age 94 was an inspiration to me, in more than one way. He loved books with a greater passion than anyone I have known. He bought them by the armload from Amazon, pecking out his order on a computer given to him by his daughters. His dining room table was covered with new purchases, stacked to near-toppling height. Shelves everywhere creaked under the weight of books, with other stacks on the floor creating a maze in his study.

Unlike me, however, my friend had an incredible memory for what he had read, able to quote entire passages from books read a half-century or more earlier. I have a terrible memory that is getting worse. For self-improvement, I have been reading a fascinating book about memory and people who are able to train themselves to remember long lists of items, random number sequences, etc. I was telling a friend about it at lunch the other day but couldn’t remember the title and had to Google it from my phone. There is something ironic about forgetting the title of a book about memory. It’s called, “Moonwalking With Einstein,” by Josh Foer, a hilarious young man I met at a recent literary conference. Good thing it is sitting in front of me in the study, or I would have forgotten the title again.

I am about halfway through unpacking books, which comprise most of what I own. My kitchen-related possessions take up about two boxes, the books about 50. As always, a few volumes have made it onto the designated shelf for books on my reading radar, as a result of unpacking. That has meant relegating a few back to the stacks, where they will likely sit unattended until the next move — which I hope isn’t for a long time.

The best thing about unpacking books is it recalls the memory of a similar column I wrote nearly four years ago. A few days after it was published, a woman emailed me, asking if I would like to go to coffee, that she enjoyed my writing. Perhaps we would become friends, she wrote.

She is now my wife, the Beautiful Mystery Companion. She has a lot of books, too. I will be happy to haul them here from East Texas when the time comes.

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