Books Magazine

The Past Week Or So Has Been Passing Strange

By T.v. Locicero

The past week or so has been passing strange. Every day I’ve driven 15 minutes to the house I lived in for about two decades with the woman I divorced about seven years ago. When I moved out back then, I left behind almost all of my most cherished possessions, my books, stacked in boxes in a basement back room.

Now having decided to return to her New England roots, my ex had sold the house, in one of Detroit’s nicest suburbs, a place I could no longer afford. So the books finally had to be moved, and on each trip I filled my car, a smallish station wagon type, with those boxes and brought them back here to my small apartment to stash them in a garage where I had spent days throwing things out and shifting stuff around to make room.

Through all of this unusual (for me) physical exertion, as I hauled box after heavy box up the basement stairs to shove them in my car, I was teased and bashed by memories filled with hopes, regrets, dreams and disappointments. I must have moved about 60 boxes, but obviously this was not just physical labor.

In that basement I had practically all my books, from the beginning of my college days, first at Notre Dame and then at the University of Michigan, along with close to 2000 hardcover copies of Murder in the Synagogue, the book that unfortunately holds the most emotional resonance for me. (If you’re wondering why I reference Murder that way, you can check out its strange, four-decade-old story in this old post.)

But, in any case, each time I grabbed a box marked “Prentice-Hall,” my publisher back then, I wondered why the hell I was doing this. It seemed almost like blind instinct was driving me. I knew only that I could not possibly leave those books behind to be thrown in a dump.

This was the third time over the past 40 years that I’ve moved them, from basement to basement to garage, and now (unlike those previous moves when I still clung to fanciful hopes) I was quite certain I would never be able to do anything with them that would be right and appropriate for books.

Online I’ve sold only a handful of those hard covers, with their garish purple dust jacket featuring a bullet-split menorah on the front and a photo of my hopelessly naïve 30-year-old self on the back. And there’s no place I can think of to even give them away now. Talk about the baggage of my life. They will most likely still be stacked in the garage when I croak, and so I will have left my family a befuddling, regrettable burden.

And then there were all my personal books, some of them in boxes so water damaged from basement floods that I had to go through them book by book and decide which ones were suitable to keep and which should be consigned to the trash. Often not an easy choice with so many of them holding such great importance to me.

A slim book of poetry by my favorite professor at Notre Dame, a brilliant, no doubt tortured man who had left his wife and children because he finally knew he was gay. My treasured copy of Crime and Punishment with all my scribbles and notes from my Russian Lit class at U. of M. A volume of short stories by six of the giants that I’d pull out as a parlor trick, point to their pictures on the cover and ask my two-year-old son, “Who’s that?” And the little kid would pipe, “Dostoyevsky!” Well, you get the idea.

And again they’ll all probably remain in boxes in the garage because I have only a few small bookcases in this crowded little apartment, and I’m very unlikely to live again in a place with enough shelves for my books.

Of course, all of this was also a potent reminder of how much our world has changed over the past decade or so, especially the volatile world of books, a place where today I can hold a thousand titles on a handheld device that lets me access each book with the touch of a finger.

But the bottom line is I did it. I moved everything, certainly everything in decent enough shape to move, and I didn’t have a heart attack, and I didn’t ruin my back. Actually, if I didn’t think the whole thing was close to absurd, I’d almost feel proud of myself.

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