Five months, 12 books and the security they provide

A Nissan Altima can only hold so much. And the average 35-year-old American woman probably owns more than that sedan’s capacity.

I know I do. Packing to move to Colorado presented a challenge: I didn’t know how long I’d live with my best friends before I found my own space. I needed to prepare for a change of season–perhaps seasons–and leave room in the car for me, my father and my two orange cats.

I reduced my belongings, selling some and donating others. I boxed up the rooms of my house, sorting them into a storage pile and a move-right-away pile. As I did, I faced one of the most challenging questions of the move:

Which books should I bring with me?

Heather, the aforementioned roommate, said my room had plenty of space. I should bring as many books as I wanted! But that wasn’t the issue, I reminded her. The challenge was not overfilling my car’s 116 cubic feet of space.

Some argue the books we buy say as much about us as the books we read. I don’t know if that’s true, but surely the books I packed (and the books I later acquired) reveal something of who I am. I settled on a 12-book limit; if I read them all (because I’m so good at limiting myself to what I already own, right?), I could visit the library or Book Train and replenish.

I read only one of those 12 books.

I slept with “Looking for Alaska” beside me the night I learned my sister died. It’s one of my comfort books, a go-to novel for whatever emotion I experience. But when I was ready to read, I turned instead to Joan Didion. “The Year of Magical Thinking” mirrored my experience, in some way, as Didion worked to understand the new shape of her life.

I bought many more books during the four-and-a-half months my bookcases and I were apart. I visited the library–conveniently located just behind my office–more times than I could count. I developed a habit of visiting my local bookstore when in mourning. And though my reading time now competes with my outside time, I’ve spent many hours with my nose between hundreds of pages.

Now I’m again faced with the 260-plus books I own but haven’t yet read, not just the nine in that cross-country dozen. It’s comforting to be surrounded by these friends, old and new. But I look back over this list and wonder, perhaps there’s something calling me to them, now, after all.

  1. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  2. Page One: Inside the New York Times and the Future of Journalism by David Folkenflick
  3. Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden
  4. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger
  5. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
  6. The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad
  7. My Kind of Place by Susan Orlean
  8. Love Illuminated by Daniel Jones
  9. The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild
  10. Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates
  11. My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossell
  12. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Yeah, and OK, I also ended up with a couple of books as gifts or books that I didn’t mean to bring just yet, but had to because I forgot to pack them. Best-laid plans and all.

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