Extract #2 from novel-in-progress The Library of Babel

Over a rainy spring week, they packed their belongings in boxes. They had too much stuff; they had to keep going back for more boxes. There were so many things Tom only looked at each time he moved. He wondered if he should accept this or whether he should throw them out. Maybe it was what made moving worthwhile – it forced him to revisit objects, to reconnect with his past and the things he’d decided were worth keeping.

Then, sorting through the computer leads, half dead batteries, assorted pencil tins given as gifts by his mum which had accumulated in drawers, he revised his thinking. There were many things he hadn’t decided were worth keeping; they had just clung on to him like prickles and he had failed to throw them out, or he had some sense that they might be needed.

He got to the books which had outgrown his shelves and were doublestacked in places. The Sinclair Morgan Library’s problem in miniature. He put six in a pile to take to the opshop, four of them which he’d failed to read in ten years of having them and two which he’d read and hadn’t loved. He couldn’t find a single other book amongst his thousand that he was prepared to part with.

He began packing his thousand books in cardboard boxes. He was thinking about what qualified a book for keeping. If it was a favourite book, that obviously needed keeping. But also if it had lots of annotations – ticks on favourite passages, underlinings, comments, dates he started different chapters – those books qualified for keeping too, even if they weren’t favourites. Those books retained a record of the hours spent on them. He liked to think that reading back over the annotations enabled him to recall the reading experience, reanimating the time he had put into the book.

And then there were books that he thought he’d be going back to, reference books, difficult books which needed re-reading, classic books he needed to check things in or to have on his shelf for appearance’s sake. Maybe he was being too harsh on himself; it wasn’t that many people ever inspected his shelves. It was more likely it was for his own self-esteem; it told him that he was capable of reading Finnegan’s Wake and Moby Dick – one day.

Anita caught him in the lounge spending too long on the books and said, ‘Do you want me to do this for you?’

‘No,’ he said. She used to like reading till she married him. But she told him that his obsession with books had put her off them. As a kind of conscientious objection to his preoccupation, she was reading very little these days. It wasn’t working; he read as much as ever, but he felt lonely that he couldn’t talk books with her as much as they had when they were dating.

When he finally finished packing the books, pin and needles ran through his legs from crouching down so long. He picked up the pile of six discards to put them in a plastic bag, only to reconsider three, which he added to the last box. It barely seemed worth taking the three other books to the opshop, but he needed to make some gesture toward deaccumulation.