The Smell of Dusty Books

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Gulliver’s Travels

The pile of cardboard boxes has been standing around in my corridor for nearly six months. I postponed the business of sorting the things inside them for as long as I could, giving priority to college and- housework. I just didn’t like moving houses including the acts of packing and unpacking things, especially if they weren’t mine.

But once I opened the first box a few days ago and ran my hands through the contents, I felt something like a sense of adventure building up inside me.

Maybe this is what I have been so afraid of. That moment when you have an abundance of things in front of you and you just have no idea what to do with them. Keep them? Throw them away? Donate them? And if I were to keep them, where exactly should I put them so that the whole thing does not look like a huge mess?

Sometimes these kinds of thoughts can occupy me for several minutes.

Most of the things were books. Old ones. The ones that have found their way into my mother’s possession when my existence was not even an idea yet.

Some of those books have been a constant part of my surroundings since childhood. I recognized them immediately. There was the German self- learn book with a black cover and the outlines of Germany printed on it in white.

There were books whose authors and titles made absolutely no sense to me back then but now that I hold them in my hands, I wish I would be reading in Russian much faster so that I could actually enjoy reading a book in my native language. The collected works of Stephen King, Heinrich Böll, Thomas Mann, a biography of Goya, a Belarusian cook book and many more books that could fill the lonely hours alone in my armchair with lit candles and a cup of coffee nearby.

It is very difficult to keep hard copy books when you travel. They are too heavy and there are only so many you can eventually take with you. As much as I understand this now, I am even more happy to find that my mother chose to keep so many of her own copies.

The pages were dry and thin, yellow with age and the several fingers that turned them around several times over. It smelled of nostalgia. It smelled of good old times. A feeling of being home.

Then I came to a box that had my own books in them. There should be more down in the basement I am sure. I looked through the boxes in the corridor and wondered. What made me keep those? Why?

It is interesting to try and re-construct my way of thinking now, nearly six years after I had packed those boxes. Maybe it is true that our bookshelves can reveal quite something about us, their owners.

Who was I six years ago and who am I now? Two were books I had to read for school back then. One were the collected works of C.S. Lewis in Russian, another was a collection of Russian children’s poems that my parents had me learn by heart so that I turned out to be a smart kid in the end. The rest were teenage novels in German.

What made me think that I would want to have those when I am older? At least the teenage novels for girls? Was it because some of them were gifts or because some were bought with my own money? Maybe I just didn’t have the heart to throw them away.

The last thing I found was a black and white photograph of my parents in the late 80s. My father in his Red Army military uniform standing next to my mother in front of a curtain like the one used in photo studios. They must have been as old as I am now. If I had to talk about the very first conscious image I have ever had of my parents, since early childhood, it would be this one and now I found it again.

Maybe keeping things from the past is a good thing. They remind us of who we used to be. They help us not to lose track of ourselves.

 

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