Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
A few months ago, our family decided on the adventure of a lifetime. After having lived in Singapore for the past 11 years, we have decided to move to a “quaint provincial little town” (as described by a former colleague of mine), called Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. For some of you who have been following our posts here, this may not be new to you. In fact, I have even posted about the books I hand-carried with me all the way from Singapore here.
We received all our 352 boxes from Singapore sometime during first week of September. In the frenzied rush of everything new settlers need to know about their new residence: all the attestations/authentication, stamping and certifying required by a different country with different rules, the purchase of new furniture, dealing with work and school, navigating our way around a totally unfamiliar area – the unpacking of the book boxes (probably over 200 of them) had to take a back seat.
Initially, husband (who happens to be a DIY Master) wanted to paint our wooden bookshelves, but we eventually decided against it because (1) it will take an inordinately long time to paint or even varnish all these babies, (2) it is frigging hot outside (42 to 45 degrees on occasion) where he is planning to do his work – in our balcony, as can be slightly seen from the image above.
This is my happy face after husband had finally set up all them shelves (sixteen in total, not counting the picturebook shelves). We had to be strategic in how we organized our shelves and how we went about unpacking all them gazillions of boxes which I thought would never end. Some people were asking why we had to bring all them books with us, what with e-books and e-readers available, etc – the usual question; and that it was mere ‘sentimental value’ that made us hang on to the books despite the massive international move, the considerable cost of shipping, and the hassle of reorganizing everything.
While I did try to explain that it was more than just sentimental value (what a cringe-worthy, highly reductive, and presumptuous description), ultimately the essence of it is that these books are family. You don’t leave family behind. We did send boxes and boxes of books back to the Philippines to some family members, but the ones we have here are ours and will be part of our self-definition as human beings and what ultimately contributes to the enrichment of our spirit.
We are fortunate that we have a balcony that was able to accommodate around 200 boxes or so, as I slowly made my way box per box (lucky too that it doesn’t rain here in the desert), unpacking each and every single book, and yes, dusting each one, wiping off the grime and the age-old dirt, and attempting to put some semblance of order among the thousands of books that were placed on our floor initially, while the shelves were being assembled.
The first genre to be arranged and categorized were the picturebooks (naturally). However, the shelves also underwent a massive transformation – see whether you are able to spot the difference in the images below:
It took nearly two months until I was able to unpack all them boxes and assemble the titles in some sort of order that I can make sense of. More than once, I felt like tearing my hair out and was just about ready to give up, just staring at all the books littered on the floor. I was also occasionally overcome by inertia, willing the books to arrange themselves on their own, like itinerant children who simply had to find their way home on their own, because I give up!
Eventually, persistence and tenacity won out. Just a week ago, we were finally able to see our marble floors, and breathe in the books surrounding us, neatly tucked on their rightful shelves, with plenty of space for new friends to join the family.
I now have one entire bookshelf filled with just women writers (see farthest left bookshelf in the above image – mainly because #WomenReadWomen2019). The authors are mostly women of colour who also happen to be migrants/immigrants.
So what is my system of organizing the books? I shall leave that for another day. For now, let me just recline on this sofa and read.