After more than two years, I have finally begun to unpack my library from storage. I'm hauling one banker's box at a time up from the garage and filling up my bookcases again. To give you a sense of what this endeavor entails, I worked for several hours yesterday, and finished A through C. (I'm beginning with fiction, the bulk of my library, which I alphabetize by author. Unsexy but effective.)
I'm struck by some things as I unpack. The first is simply how much I have missed having ready access to these books. I've gone downstairs over the years and pulled out a volume from time to time when I needed it for a review or a lesson plan. But I've missed the real pleasure of lingering in front of the shelves and letting my eyes trail randomly over titles, plucking out old favorites and forgotten pleasures.
I am also struck by what a completist I once was. If I loved an author, I had to own and read everything. And I do mean everything. It will surprise none of you that the "B" section is among the biggest, and it contains two full shelves of Banville. This is a nettlesome twitch I inherited from my father the collector. His collection of MG models was the most famous in the world, and he wasn't content with one of each type of car - he had to have one of each variation. If an MGA was made by Dinky in five colors, some with the top up, some with it down, some with two passengers, some with three, well, he had to have them all. I would watch him spend years pursuing a single, elusive variant.
I've been similarly extreme in my collecting habits, so I've got firsts and signed firsts from both the UK and US, plus paperbacks plus galleys plus the Black books and other incidentals and one-time oddities, including a short story in a 1974 issue of Argosy that Banville himself had forgotten.
And yet, as I unpack, I note that sort of excess has deserted me in recent years. James Salter is the first author in years whose entire oeuvre I felt compelled to buy and read, but one copy of each title was more than enough for me. And in truth, with the sense I have of always feeling behind in my reading, it almost seems an unforgivable luxury to commit so much time to one author.
Still, I enjoy re-enountering my obsessions of the past. Other authors who hog up such large sections of my shelves include Peter Carey and J.M. Coetzee, and so I've just been re-exposed to their long and impressive careers. I remembered the first time I read Oscar and Lucinda, who completely I fell for the work and its author. And I remembered the crushing moral weight of Disgrace, the book that launched my Coetzee mania. And I know there are others lurking in the wings as I move through the alphabet. Which I will dutifully report here.