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Moving means looking at your own material culture. For me, the biggest change after ten years is the number and kind of books I brought with me, compared to the ones I’ll be taking to Potsdam. Almost all of my art books are making the move, big, heavy, beautiful tomes that let me travel through time and space, curled up on the sofa. Some of the novels that shaped my outlook are coming, too, especially those given to me by family and friends when I was younger. Those are my emotional books.

But most of the books I’ve enjoyed over the past 10 years are going to friends, hoping others will enjoy them as much as I did. My reference materials are going to whoever wants them, including all of my encyclopedias. I’m keeping some hard copy dictionaries, but mostly because they were so expensive. Who would want those big, fat books, in the age of free online resources for first reference and then digital formats for more authoritative content? As for those coursebooks I admired and collected to see how the masters teach English? My scrapbook collection.

Books in the internet age… Germans say “Papier ist geduldig,” paper is patient. It’s also slow. Yesterday came that moment of clarity, when I was looking at some of my history and cultural anthropology books. One in particular made me think, where an ageing academic published an anthology of articles he had researched and published long ago. Looking back in 1990 over his work of the previous 30-40 years he wrote how new research had made him edit in changes and footnotes, mostly incorporating references and adding postscripts changing his conclusions. Reading his reflections on his own intellectual growth was like looking at the cross-section of a tree. It reminded me how every bit of information is modulated every time we add new information and shift our evaluation and rephrase what we say. Instant information and prompt turnaround is such a poor substitute for a steady growth of knowledge. Will younger generations have our experience of slow intellectual growth?

Bob Dylan once sang “I forgot more than you’ll ever know about love.” I forgot more than you’ll every know about … oops, what did we learn at German colleges in the 80s? Looking through the academic tomes I collected during my studies I was simply amazed to be confronted with ways of thinking that worked for me at the time but seem completely alien to me now. When I was an academic working in museums, I was preoccupied with material culture, looking for ways we could learn from artifacts to create a better life for everyone. For example, in intercultural projects I’d be looking for signs and symbols that proved that the confluence of cultures is an anthropological norm, or would develop activities for vistors based on that concept. Funny, it seems like such a roundabout route to me now. I’ve left all of that behind. I’m really only interested in the people themselves now, in real day-to-day experience.

Will I still remember how I used to see the world now that I’ve left behind the material evidence of my own past mindset?

I’ll be reframing this blog soon, after my move-related sabbatical.


10 Responses

  1. First, I say keep as many books as will fit in your apartment, Internet age or not! (Okay, you can file that under ‘works for him, doesn’t have to work for me.)

    I just wanted to write–no, not to answer the question at the end of your post–but to say that these introspective posts are my favorite on your blog. You have challenged me in my attempts to build up an old-school library. . .

    Maybe, in ten years, I’ll be embarrassed by the books I buy now. But maybe, in ten years, I’ll pull them off the shelf and be happy to spend time with old friends.

  2. I hate to be pedantic – because i too love what you write and am glad that you have surfaced above your moving to do so – but i think Bob What’s his name said “I’ve forgotten more , than you’ll ever know about HER but i’ll go and dig out my vinyl to check.

  3. Thanks guys, and yep, it sure is good to have vinyl and paper to check 😉 You’re right, of course, Chris! Here’s …!!

  4. Hi Anne

    Good to see your latest post. I could associate with you about what to pack or not pack connected with books. However, I still ended up bringing quite a lot of my books to Abruzzo. Some of them have got past history attached and I just couldn’t bear to part with them.

    I kept all my French degree books, which I know I will never have time to re-read in French. Why? I asked myself, and I couldn’t answer. I also wanted to throw away my teaching books from the late 1970s, but then stopped myself. So I still have the original Streamline series of books. Like you, I was able to give away to friends and family a lot of paperback books which I had enjoyed but didn’t feel the need to keep. I also donated a lot of books to the school library. It’s good to know that other people will enjoy them.

    One book which proved invaluable during my move was “Clear the Clutter with Feng Shui” by Karen Kingston. It contains a lot of fantastic advice.

    Look forward to reading more from you when you are ready. Til then, have fun with all the preparations for your move.

  5. Sorry, Joan, I deleted your comment by mistake. Been offline so long I frankly don’t know the interface anymore.
    I’m not sure I’ll be continuing the songs. There are a lot of sites that present songs for teaching, with lyrics, and that was my original intention. Times have changed, online teaching has changed, blogs have changed….
    Cutting clutter is absolutely essential, Janet. But I am often reminded of the lovely, if sentimental stories of once useful things relegated to the closet and then the dump. You probably know the tough spot Spike Jonze did for Ikea about a lamp that’s being thrown away:

    Chris, thanks, great info. Check this out:

  6. Hi Anne

    Thanks for including the Ikea lamp ad. I had never seen it before. I was just beginning to wish someone would pick up the lamp and take it to a new home, or maybe the girl would regret dumping it and rush to retrieve it, when the abrupt words at the end shattered the idyll. The soft background music was cleverly setting the obviously sentimental atmosphere in the background, and so the harsh words do come as a shock!

    One thing I deeply regret doing in the interest of “de-cluttering” was to remove all my photos/mementos from my bulky 1983 GDR album in order to put them in a more space-saving box. I discovered that sifting through photos in a box leads to them getting mixed up, something which would never happen in a fixed album. You live and learn.

  7. Anne,

    You caught me in a reflective mood and created a real sense of déjà vu for me as I read your latest blog. I have a feeling I’ll be ruminating on it for a few days. Thanks.
    I’ve moved more often than I care to think about and have always left something behind to be exchanged for something new. Sometimes books are easier to take along than people, but even hard copies are becoming dispensable. Hope you’ll find new people where you’re going to accompany the new thinking you’ll inevitably be doing.

  8. Hi Anne,

    Nice piece.

    My Kindle rocks. The ability to carry up to 3,500 books with me on one device never ceases to amaze me. And once you get lost in the story, you forget you are not holding a “real” book. It is great for people like me who like to read about five books at the same time.

    Except for cook/art/travel/antique books, I am slowly giving away my other books. And we still have hundreds! When I loan a book to someone, I tell them to pass it on to someone else when they are done.

    The only reference book I keep around in hard copy is the Chicago Manual of Style.

    Hope all is well with you.


  9. @ Janet, I’ve made the same mistake. You look at the pictures, and it’s like word soup from what used to be a story.
    @ Rod, definitely, books are often connected to those very important people.
    @ Karen, I really like passing on books I’ve enjoyed to others; can you do that with Kindle books, too? Because if so, I’m about to convert.

    Warm regards to all of you!

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