“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” —Marcus Tullius Cicero
Let’s set aside the fact that this beloved quote which adorns countless magnets, tote bags, posters, etc., is falsely interpreted. Yes, Cicero said something like this—sort of—but the attitude toward books and who handled them was very different in ancient Rome, and really cannot be compared to our modern sensibilities.
But I digress. Which is easy to do when your personal library is packed into boxes (my apologies to the movers who have to haul them) and put into storage. There have been so many times in the past few weeks in which I started to work on a story and thought, “Oh, I need to verify that fact,” and reached over…to be reminded the bookcase was missing. Or I decide to make Saveur’s French farmhouse chicken in vinegar sauce. I walk to the kitchen to get the cookbook, and oh yeah, those are gone, too.
Sure, much of it can be looked up online, such as the Saveur recipe. If my writing is connected to history, I can find the complete writings of authors of the ancient world online. It’s not a huge deal, really, in the grand scheme of things. But with all the complications that come with buying and selling a house at the same time, and six weeks to go before the moving extravaganza occurs, it can feel disorienting, frustrating, and, at times, overwhelming.
The Muse has been fluttering about my imagination, impatient to return. There have been a few pages of scribble in my journal—though horror upon horrors, my fountain pen ink was packed, so when this cartridge runs dry, I have to (gasp) use a regular pen. Or maybe buy more cartridges, if I can find my way through the labyrinth of seven-foot snowbanks to get to Bob Slate Stationer in Harvard Square.
Living in a perfectly staged house has been fun. It’s clean all the time. Over time, though, finding the simplest of things: hairbrush, slippers, laundry basket, all tucked away at the last minute before a showing, go missing and recovering them is a challenge on par with the memory game played by so many kids. It gets tiresome. Buying and selling homes simultaneously tests your problem-solving skills on an intense level. All too often, I’m distracted by the next challenge that has popped up: something needs to be fixed and we need to get bids for the project immediately, or a form needs to be signed and filed right away and I have to dig for some obscure bit of information.
So what do I read these, other than The Economist? Only 5 actual books remain: Two old Norton anthologies of literature looking for a good home, an out-of-date atlas from 1990, and a massive dictionary. I eased into the realm of ebooks easily enough. Half of what I read—at least—is in the form of ebooks, the dragging commute of the notorious MBTA being the main supplier of time to kill. Immersing yourself in a good read is an excellent pastime when surrounded by your fellow crabby commuters. Like many avid readers, though, I still appreciate the feel of a real book in my hands. George R. R. Martin’s World of Ice and Fire is a treasure to hold. This Silmarillion-like tome is the only “actual” book left I’m actively reading. The dictionary, like the atlas and anthologies, will wait for some spring evening, when they can be placed on the stoop for passersby to pick up—a common fate for many books in the Greater Boston area.
As much as I love my real books, some have fallen from favor. My stained and tattered Roget’s Thesaurus seems feeble compared to PowerThesaurus. Online dictionaries are updated frequently. When it comes to reference books, the online versions have won.
Several times I’ve seen an announcement of a new release and thought about whether I’d prefer the paper version. I meandered around Porter Square Books and had a long internal debate about picking up a signed copy of Neil Gaiman’s latest short story collection. Then I thought, “It’s one more thing to pack.” The book stayed on the shelf.
The Great Purge of Clutter which led to the Perfectly Staged House was a great exercise in getting used to living without things. I have a tremendous appreciation for the open space, but living without the books has proven to be one of the biggest challenges. Even when I don’t need them, just passing by a shelf and seeing a favorite title makes me smile.
I’m looking forward to that day (well, days—let’s be honest) when I’m unpacking books with my husband in our new dual-library at the new house. We’ve already decided to name them and get plaques for them, á la Harvard endowment style—the Frost-Garcia Library and the Garcia-Frost Library. It will be a new, sun-filled sanctuary.