I’ve moved three times over the past five years. Packing for the moves is always the most time-consuming part of the process, and it’s not all that bad. Except for the books. When my wife and I last moved, we went to the hardware store and got a bunch of 98-cent cardboard boxes to put the books in. By the time we were done, we had filled nearly 40 of those boxes, all of which had to be carried down three flights of stairs, loaded into the U-Haul, and then carried right back into the new apartment. To put that process in broad terms: it sucks. And yet, unpacking those boxes is usually the first thing I do when I get to the new apartment. Not only is it an easy way to get those 40 boxes out of the way, there’s a more sentimental reason, too. For me, home is where the books are.
I’ve been collecting books ever since I’ve been interested in history, which is to say most of my life. For holidays and birthdays, my wish lists are usually books, and my family has taken to kind of groaning and saying, “Don’t you want anything else?” Well, to be frank, not really. In total, my library is hovering near 1,100 titles, the grand majority being about the Civil War. I know in comparison to others, that total is a drop in the bucket, but looking at all the titles arranged on their bookshelves is the easiest way for me to settle into my new apartment, wherever it may be. I’m not a very neat person, but when it comes to my books? Everything has a home. I’ve arranged them into broad sections, like Eastern Theatre and Western Theatre, then chronologically from there. Same with books about the American Revolution, Mexican War, and the Napoleonic Wars. I have biographies arranged from A-Z, and magazine boxes for The Civil War Times and the Blue & Gray.
The books themselves are the same ones that I suspect that most historians or enthusiasts own. I don’t go searching for 1st edition books written by the participants themselves—I download them for free as PDFs from Google Books or the Internet Archive. The exception is Morris Schaff’s The Battle of the Wilderness, which a friend gave to me. Schaff, who was a Federal officer at the battle, signed the book in 1912 in a reconciliatory tone to a former Confederate and thanking him for a visit “under your hospitable roof.”
While I may not have the most books under one roof, or even the most expensive ones, they remain home to me. And no matter how many moves I have to make, or how much grumbling I do as I carry the umpteenth box to the loading truck, it still remains a bit like Christmas morning having a chance to open those boxes and start unpacking.