Weekly Photo Challenge: Journey

A librarian with three English degrees and a literary-minded physicist can accumulate a vast pile of books between them. Yesterday, despite only having two and a half bookcases in the house, and no prospect of being able to afford more in the near future, we set to work on unpacking the vast mountain of book boxes we have accumulated over the course of several recent moves.

In one box, I came across a copy of Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the Landing which, ironically, I had bought second-hand in Cambridge and then promptly not read. Browsing through it, I noticed a passage where she talks about books which fill a temporary need, and can then be disposed of: “You don’t have to pay its rent just because it is a book”.* One genre she singles out here is the travel guide; by coincidence, we had just opened a box full of our old, well-worn travel books and maps, and it struck me that this was an idea worth exploring.

Here’s a small selection of the books themselves, stacked as neatly as possible given the fact that many of them are rather bent and battered, their multi-coloured spines somewhat unified by the use of a monochrome filter.

We used to travel quite a lot; Stephen still does, although Eoin, not being immensely fond of changes in his routine, tends to act rather like a little human ball and chain as far as I am concerned. One day, of course, this will change, but, for the moment, he and I are very much home-based.

By the time we do start to move about again, many of these books will be of little practical use: hotels will have closed, prices will have changed, entire borders may be different. The guides to Paris and Italy, for example, are long out of date, as they deal entirely in pre-Euro currencies. Still, though, we resist ridding ourselves of these volumes. They are the tangible reminders of journeys we have made, and of experiences we have had. Stephen’s term living in Paris, where he discovered the perils and delights of subsidised three-course lunches every day in the university canteen (he says he returned to Ireland twice the size he was when he left). My stay in Florence, studying Italian and art history, and trying to get to grips with the rubbish collection system. Our train trip across Russia, fuelled by tea from the carriage samovar. The time I visited Venice with my friend K, and we witnessed the almost ridiculously romantic sight of couples waltzing by moonlight on the steps of La Salute. A lot of the guides have scribbled notes, crossings out, business cards taped into the covers or tucked between the pages. They may be out of date, but they are also irreplaceable. In using them, we have changed them and added to them as we have changed ourselves, even in small ways, by the journeys we have taken. I don’t mind paying their rent: the memories are worth it.

*Susan Hill, Howards End is on the Landing: a year of reading from home (London: Profile, 2010), p.7. Please excuse any errors in formatting: I haven’t found either of the MLA or MHRA style guides yet, and I’m useless at footnoting without them.

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10 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge: Journey

  1. I couldn’t part with our travel books either. So many memories. Actually, I feel that way about lots of my books. Especially the linguistics ones. I’m never likely to read them again but I couldn’t possibly get rid of them. Our new house has a severe lack of bookshelves too. I’ve found room for the cook books and my gardening books. My knitting books are in a pile in the spare room. The rest are hidden in huge inaccessible piles in the built in cupboards. I can’t wait to liberate them!

    • It’s hard, isn’t it? With books on the scale of our collection, we really should get fitted shelves built in, but I just don’t think we can afford it now. Every so often we wonder about heading for Ikea and throwing Billys (Billies?) at the problem, but S doesn’t think they’d be strong enough for his physics tomes, which are heavyweight in all senses of the word. We’ve rescued some, but a lot are still languishing!

      • Does Ikea still sell Ivars? They are / were very very basic shelf units – just uprights and shelves, but the shelves are real wood, not particle board. Ivar is our bookshelf standby, at least in the less public rooms. (I’ll admit they aren’t pretty.) We have several of them, and they’ll hold as much as you can pile on them!

      • They do, but I think we are going to have to bite the bullet and build something ourselves: a lot of our books are odd sizes, and we need to make good use of the space. Fortunately, my husband has just offered to do the building!

  2. Oh, yes! With our house, it’s easier to list the rooms without bookcases…the kitchen, the bathrooms, the laundry, the hall. But to make up for those omissions, there are several bookcases in the basement!

  3. No one can change or erase the memories we have of our life journeys. How wonderful to have had the opportunity to travel to so many places.

    • Thank you! That’s one of the benefits of my husband’s job: there may be very long hours, but he gets to travel to all sorts of exciting places to collaborate with other physicists. One day, I might get to go with him again…

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