There is always going to be a book that saves you


Alexander Chee on finding your way in the dark with digital books @ The Morning News.
When I recently moved to New York to live with my partner, Dustin, I introduced 22 boxes of books to the one-bedroom railroad apartment in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, where he’s lived for 19 years. Dustin built over 70 feet of bookshelves for me and in just one day I filled them, feeling, afterward, mixed pride and shame at the size of my collection. Which still didn’t quite fit on the shelves.

Dustin built one more shelf. And another. I filled these also. Now all of the books are off the floor and out of boxes, and the shelves he built fit beautifully into the room. The books do not overwhelm, but this is because they are all on shelves. There’s really no extra space, which is to say, any new books mean that soon the books may overwhelm us. Three, or perhaps 10 new books, much less the 30 I can easily acquire per season, could take us into crisis.

My books have moved with me from Maine to Connecticut to San Francisco to New York, to Iowa to New York to Los Angeles to Rochester to Amherst and now to New York once again. I’m a writer, also the child of two people who were each the ones in their family to leave and move far away, and the result is a life where I’ve moved regularly, and paid to ship most of my books so often I’m sure I’ve essentially repurchased them several times over. Each time I move, my books have grown in number. Collectively, they’re the autobiography of my reading life. Each time I pack and unpack them, I see
The Phoenicians, a picture history book my father gave me as a child, and will never sell; the collection of Gordon Merrick paperbacks I shoplifted when I was a closeted teenager, stealing books no one would ever let me buy. The pages still retain the heat of that need, as does my copy of Joy Williams’s Breaking and Entering, bought when I was a star-struck college student at the Bennington Summer Writers’ Workshop 20 years ago. Each time they were all necessary, all differently necessary. read more