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The Weight of Knowledge: On Moving Books

29 March 2015

From The Millions:


“Yes, sir, 45 boxes over the original moving estimate.”

“How much is that going to cost?”

“Well, the revised estimate adds another 1,000 pounds, so $450.”


“But that’s just a weight estimate. It could be a lot less depending on what’s in them. They could be filled with pillows for instance. What is in them?”

“Not pillows.”

Many were filled with books, hundreds of them. And if the mover was to believed, they weighed about half a ton: the approximate weight of my knowledge.

I had packed all of the books into two types of freely acquired boxes: those labeled “Adult Brief for Incontinence (Moderate Absorbency),” which my wife brought home from a hospital; and a colorful array picked up at our local liquor store, everything from Ciroc Red Berry to Kinky Blue Liqueur, a versatile concoction which doubles as an aphrodisiac and a window cleaner.

I thought about packing thematically, sorting my volumes by intoxicant. The Russians would go with the vodkas, the Irish with the whiskeys, Germans with the beers, the French with the cognacs, and those few authors whom I knew personally, along with William Faulkner, with the beloved bourbons.

. . . .

Before my last big move, from California to North Carolina about five years ago, I had unloaded most of my book-hoard — I prefer this Old English construction to “library” or “collection,” both of which don’t quite capture the thrilling chaos of that word-treasure spread over my shelves, coffee tables, floors, bathrooms, and car.

. . . .

After the purge, my book-hoard was whittled down to a few boxes to be shipped via media mail.

“Now to get the media mail rate there can only be books in here,” explained the suspicious postal clerk as she watched me hoist the boxes onto the counter.

“I understand.”

“If we open it up and find even a toothbrush, we’ll charge you the full rate.”

(Had she divined my scheme to defraud the post office by cheaply shipping dental supplies, or was she bluffing?)

“Got it,” I replied, despite the realization that I had actually thrown a non-media mail object in with my Norton anthologies — not a toothbrush but an armless Hideki Matsui bobblehead doll. (It made it through undetected.)

Those several dozen books transported from the West Coast multiplied over the years to fill 45 some-odd boxes, proving that the greatest fiction is that book lovers can reform.

. . . .

I took the carful to a used book store, where the clerk instructed me to wait as he sorted the books into two piles — one he wouldn’t buy and the other he’d buy for a pittance. For a bibliophile, this period is especially dangerous, akin to an alcoholic trying to dry out in a Kinky Blue Liqueur distillery. If you must browse to pass the time, I recommend confining yourself to the least tempting section, for me “Spirituality” or “Business.” Then plug your ears when the clerk offers you a figure for store credit, which can be twice as high as the cash offer. Always take the cash.

Link to the rest at The Millions

Books in General

29 Comments to “The Weight of Knowledge: On Moving Books”

  1. The book hoarding happens with the Kindle too, but they’re much easier to move.

  2. In 1995, when moving from the blow-torch heat of Phoenix to the cool shade of NorCal, I packed up the last of my stuff into my little Geo Metro, slammed the door and slipped into the driver’s seat. I glanced to my right and was pleased to see that the front seat (packed three boxes high) and the floor in front of it (two boxes crammed beneath the dash) was big enough to hold the whole of my remaining books. The car was stuffed to the brim. I started the car and thought, “I feel like I’m forgetting something.” My dog came around to my side of the car and put her paws on the window. Since this was my last trip and I couldn’t afford to mail the boxes, I grabbed the boxes off the front seat and set them on the front porch, not even opening the lids to see what I was leaving behind. It was too heartbreaking. Man, I love my Kindle.

  3. I just moved in January from a house that we lived in and accumulated just so many books in for 8 years. I ended up getting rid of most of our books and giving them away, but that still left 3 good bookshelves’ worth of book we lugged over here. NEVER AGAIN. These days I never buy print books unless an ebook version just isn’t available. (Still not uncommon for older genre books.) And slowly I want to convert as much of our print book collection to ebook only as I can. It just not worth the space and the effort to maintain when there’s a much more convenient alternative.

    • +1

      I moved to a tiny house and got rid of all but ONE bookshelf worth of books. The rest were on my e-reader.

      Later, I realized I needed some of the reference books I got rid of. Guess what? The library had copies for me to use.

      Nowadays, I think of print books as luxury items. A book has to earn its right to be on my shelves. I buy ebooks like candy.

      I love being a bibliophile in the modern world.

  4. I have limited sympathy. I have 600 boxes of books withering away in New York State, and another 800 in my local warehouse (with all the furniture subsequent to major downsizing). I’d cheerfully get rid of 3/4 of the books, and most of the furniture, but it’s just too much trouble, and I’m not as young as I used to be.

    If my husband didn’t cherish delusions of feeling more like working on it later, in that mythical future where everything becomes easier, I’d bite the bullet and hire some temps to help me sort through it, but it’s just gonna have to wait.

  5. I remember the last time we moved in 1994. Yikes! Hadn’t done the math in a while – has it really been 21 years? Now I’m scared to think what all we’ve accumulated.

    We told the movers: 3-room apartment with some bookcases in the hall. It was a local move. They quoted us: do it in one morning for $500. Because of those bookshelves in the hall, it took till 7 pm and cost $900. Luckily we had the money and the time. But I felt sorry for the fellows carrying box after box of books.

    I keep taking carloads – of everything, not just books – to Goodwill, but I suspect we still have a net gain, rather than a net loss.

    Main problem is the kids, honestly. Not their fault. But they grow out of everything – clothes, toys, equipment, etc. – and we just don’t get it out of the house the instant they aren’t using it anymore. But we do get the new needed items in when they are needed.

  6. I’m a natural hoarder; before I left the UK, I still had a big “box of computer stuff” that included old RS232 and Centronics printer cables. I’ve since learned to look at each item and, if I haven’t missed it since the last time I saw it, it’s outta here. It’s saved me a fortune on moving costs as I like to relocate every couple of years.

    When I moved out of the UK a few years ago, I took all my remaining books to a nearby bookshop and asked them to dispose of them as they saw fit.

    Then I walked back to my flat, packed the rest of my life into two suitcases and a (very large) rucksack, travelled by train to my short-term contract job in France, and finished my journey a few months later in Italy.

    It was surprisingly painless.

    The only notable event was one of the suitcases deciding its handle was suddenly surplus to requirements and somersaulting down the stairs to the toilets in Paris’ Gare du Nord station. Quite why it was so desperate to get down there I’ve no idea.

    • “The only notable event was one of the suitcases deciding its handle was suddenly surplus to requirements and somersaulting down the stairs to the toilets in Paris’ Gare du Nord station. Quite why it was so desperate to get down there I’ve no idea.”

      That’s what happens when you pack them full of s***! 😛

      Just teasing. When I was (much) younger the gal at check in tried to pull her shoulder out of joint trying to pick up my briefcase. At her request I set it on the scales, who knew a couple hardbacks (computer programing), half a dozen paperbacks (decades before that kindle toy), a walkman (cassette), and a few tapes and batteries for a long flight could weight 60lbs? 😉

      • …who knew a couple hardbacks (computer programing), half a dozen paperbacks (decades before that kindle toy), a walkman (cassette), and a few tapes and batteries for a long flight could weight 60lbs?


        After a 3 week sojourn in London in the year 2000, I flew home with a suitcase full of books, mostly paperback. That 50 lb extra suitcase cost a bundle! 😉

        • This is why I don’t carry books home from the UK. I have ’em shipped. Last time I did this, there was no US duty on books. I carry the duty-charged items.

          And I’ve had several suitcases self-destruct in Britain! Must be something about the air.

          On the home front, when we were expecting Daughter #2, the library had to morph into her room. Easy-fine, we said. We have nine months. How hard could it be to index all the books in a database before we box and store them?

          We ran out of time at 2500 books. There are at least 4000 boxed in the garage, that will never see shelves again. My husband is not a hoarder–except for SF titles.

          My life has been a tale of raising kids amongst the books.

  7. Do remember that controversial books on most e-readers can be removed en mass by a government ordered or socially influenced keystroke. Go light, but preserve real books likely to be electronically banned or burned.

    • While my kindle has wi-fi, it’s left disabled. What ebook files I do get get downloaded to the computer and then transferred over. Yes, that means not only do I have backups every time I backup my computer, Amazon doesn’t know what’s on my kindle nor how far I’ve gotten on each book (or if I’m rereading some of the better ones! 😛 )

      (and I was doing it before Amazon showed off how easily they could pull ebooks back with 1984 and animal house …)


      Life is a monkey, flinging feces and candy. The trick is figuring out when to dodge and when to catch.

    • That’s happened once, and it was because of a right-to-sell dispute, not banning or burning. Non-issue.

  8. Al the Great and Powerful

    Not so. Controversial books you bought from an online store that keeps track of your library (like the kindle Store, or the Nook store, or ibooks) can be deleted IF THE ONLY COPIES YOU HAVE are on your device and in THEIR cloud storage (like Amazon, who has all my books so i can download them again).

    I stash my on my hard drive as well as on my device, and in my Calibre library, so no external keystroke will EVER remove them from my machine at government (or private) order.

    The tools are free, take possession of what you buy, don’t leave the reins in somebody else’s hands.

  9. I’m slowly whittling down my book-hoard, but books older than 100 years stay. They’re research material. Honest!

    I visited Australia 15 years ago, going down with a light suitcase, and coming back right on the 70-pound weight limit. In fact, I had to take two books out of the suitcase and put them in my purse to make it. 🙂

    I love paper books, but I’ll be in deeeeeeep trouble the day I get a Kindle.

  10. Al the Great and Powerful

    When I moved to pursue my PhD I had been working at Borders for 7 years… I had a LOT of books. We gave them away wholesale, and still shipped approximately 3 tons of books. When it came time to move after finishing my degree, I donated a bunch more to the school and public libraries and the pulp magazine collection to the school and still had more than a ton of books.

    Now that I have so much on tablets or pc, I’ve gotten rid of most of the hard copies, I have only 5 bookshelves in my office, and only two are double-stacked. Sadly, a lot of the popular fiction I read when I was younger fell out of the long tail before they could become ebooks, so I’m left with action/crime/mystery stuff from the 60s to the 90s (that will likely never become ebooks), plus large-sized reference books that are also unlikely to be digitized.

  11. Al the Great and Powerful

    In the books on flights story line, I got stopped at X-ray once when I was flying in Japan, because they saw tools, wire, batteries, a timer, and a bunch of similar-sized blocks all neatly stowed in my carry-on… I was an electronics tech, I had some wire and batteries and small tools in a small bag I had thrown in my shaving bag with my travel alarm, and approximately 2 dozen paperbacks stacked neatly in my bag to read on my trip.

    • Not at an airport, but at a mall. I was helping a friend pick out some computer and electronic bits for a project. We had his packaged scattered across a table trying to ensure we hadn’t forgotten anything when a mall-cop came up and demanded to know if we could make a bomb out of our little collection.

      “Only in a bad movie,” I told him — which didn’t go over too well, but the way my friend was laughing at him he decide not to hang around and ask more silly questions. (with what we had, you could have made dozens of different types of triggers — but the only thing that was planned to ‘go off’ were some very bright LEDs …)


      Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.

  12. I can identify with this. We’ve lived in the same old cottage for 30 + years and part of what stops us moving is the thought of shifting all those books. Periodically, I have a clear out, take boxes to charity shops and so on. But the remaining volumes seem to multiply like tribbles. Whenever I’m working on a new project, I suddenly find I ‘need’ books for research. I try to restrict it to eBooks but I still seem to have acquired two shelves full of antiquarian books connected with Scottish poet Robert Burns. (I’m writing a novel about his wife, Jean.) eBay is so enticing – particularly when an email drops into your inbox every morning with a fresh crop of suggestions. All the same, I’ve now downloaded a massive collection of Burns’s poems and letters with all kinds of interesting extras to my Kindle (for an amazing 99p) and – to my surprise – discovered that even when you’re familiar with it, it’s definitely easier to read the Scots language on an e-reader than on a page. But 200 year old pages are very nice!

  13. We held on to a lot of our personal library for years. The last 2 moves (made within about 18 months of one another) were the last straw, though. First one we got rid of about 18 boxes and just as many or a bit more with the next one. By then we were down to about a dozen boxes. We shed some later, added, shed again. Now we would maybe have 5. I miss them sometimes – at least the ones most recently parted with because I remember what they were.

  14. We have thousands of books that have moved with us across three continents. And there are probably a couple more moves still on the cards. (We have a low environmental-boredom threshold.) Only doubles get donated. The rest are our friends. We pack them ourselves. We don’t leave them behind.

  15. Laugh out loud humorous. Until I turn my swivel chair around and survey my library. Then the sensation turns to stark terror…

  16. I’m getting married this fall and my fiance’s house isn’t very big. The bulk of my library at this point is comprised of ebooks, but I still have quite a few hardback/paperbacks. (Including a pretty massive Star Wars EU collection.) I’ve been gearing up to pare my books down considerably between now and then, but my fiance is a sweetheart and told me to go ahead and bring all my books with me. He said we’ll figure out where to put them. 🙂
    I’ll probably weed out a few anyway; there are some that I read once and don’t really care if I ever read again.

    • Hmmm, perhaps he knows that as you (and he) get older, you’ll find it easier to get in and out of a higher bed (the trick being not to hid a book under the bed until you’re both done with it! 😛


      It’s easier to get forgiveness for being wrong than forgiveness for being right.

  17. there are some that I read once and don’t really care if I ever read again.

    More and more. My New Years resolution was to read a paper book from my collection every time I read an ebook on my Kindle. Then the paper book goes in the library return slot with a post-it that reads “donation”.

    There’s only one book I won’t do this with. “Idle Weeds”, by David Rains Wallace.

  18. Al the Great and Powerful

    I just make two piles when I’m picking books to donate… one for books I don’t want to keep, and one for books I want to read again.

  19. I’m slowly converting all my physical books to ebooks. Buying ebook copies when available, scanning when not. Some physical books have sentimental value as objects (I’ll buy a cheap used copy to scan), but I figure on getting rid of just about all 10,000+ paper books.

    I also have all my music ripped, and am working on ripping DVDs.

    I figure that when they perfect this “moving consciousness into the cloud” thing, I want all my stuff waiting there for me. 🙂

  20. I understand how this is possible. We also had cases like this and it’s really hard for the clients to accept the price. Many times we make discounts when it comes to books because it is really happening very often to have clients with many many books that need to be moved! Greets, Man With Van Bromley Ltd.

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