I’m incredibly fond of reductions. But usually when I say that, I mean say taking an idea down to the bare bones, or cooking the water out of a pan sauce to improve flavor and texture. One thing I am not fond of is cutting down my library--especially to a sort of size that can be moved anywhere, like from my house on the east coast, to Chicago, and back again.
I'm no stranger to complicated libraries. Here is a photo of my current bookshelf as proof. Climbing up the side you can the beginnings of a fake shelf. That is what I do when I run out of room (currently the shelves are all two or three rows deep, depending on book size). When everywhere is full I start stacking vertically, usually on top of thicker, sturdy hardcovers like the complete Shakespeare or my copy of 20,000 Years of Fashion. These sort of precarious towers fall down less often then you'd think.
So, with a years worth of practice in reducing, packing, and transporting personal libraries, I decided to share a few of my tips for taking your library to Shimer with you. This is mostly directed at freshman who will be heading to Shimer in a few days, but returning students can probably benefit from it too.
1. Think about space. Some Shimerians (like Sam and Meg, who have both posted here) are lucky. They live off campus with all of their books and all they have to worry about is finding enough bookshelves. Those of us who live in the dorms are not so lucky. If you live in the dorms you’ll have one bookshelf at your disposal unless you bring your own. So you probably want to consider your choices carefully. Also remember that as the year goes on you’ll get books from Shimer. This means that I brought about one box of books with me, and brought back 3--though, in my case, buying a seven-volume novel halfway through the year certainly added to the bulk. If you’re likely to buy non-school books during the year (and there are some great used book stores in Chicago that offer some pretty tempting stuff), you’ll want to take that into account, too.
2. There is nothing wrong with picking a book because it is a conversation piece. In my experience, when someone comes to visit you in your room at Shimer, sooner or later they’re going to look at (and possibly analyze) your books. So keep in mind which books you think will get people talking and also reflect your interests. For example I brought Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales with me because I’ve had interesting conversations with people about it in the past.
3. Don’t just bring books that are serious and intellectual. At some point you are going to want to read something a little lighter. What that means is going to vary from person to person. For me it was Milne and Wodehouse with a dash of Wharton.
4. Whatever you bring, you’re probably not going to read it that often. Basically what I’m saying here is that no matter how devoted a reader you are it is extremely likely that your recreational reading will be destroyed, or at least decimated, by your course work. It isn’t that Shimer students never read for fun, it’s just that we do it less when we’re at Shimer than we’re used to. Because of that I also don’t recommend bringing too many unread books that you’re planning to read in your spare time, which will be spotty and eccentric with its frequency.
5. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring books. Books actually exist for more than reading; they provide opportunities for conversation, roommate bonding, comfort, getting to know more about all sorts of people through lending them out, and are sometimes just really pretty to look at. So I urge you all to bring books if possible.
6. Consider your methods of transportation. If you’re like me and being driven to school my an indulgent parent, consider the size of their car. Consider also that books are heavy and awkward, because of their shape, to pack. If you're traveling by plane, I recommend shipping the books (and your other stuff) rather than paying for suitcases that are too heavy.
7. What I’m about to say may seem like it was implied by number 3. However, I feel like it is very important to say this clearly: if you have a book version of a security blanket (I feel most people who enjoy books at all do), then bring it. Things will happen. Even if you have a really amazing year things will still happen. They may not be terrible but they will leave you wanting your safe-beloved-comfortable book right about then. It would be a pity if you left it behind.
8. If you do bring DVDs or CDs (and you’ll probably use these more than books) bring them in one of those zip shut soft multipage CD cases. I think they’re called CD books. I know this doesn’t really apply to books but it is something my first roommate, who had experience living out of her suitcase, did, and I thought it was really cool and a great space saver.
9. If there is a book you want to bring, but you’re unsure because you think people may see it and think you’re not serious enough (or if you weren’t worried about that before but now you are because I mentioned it), bring it. Seriously, in my experience with roommates (and I had four of them), I never thought less of them because they had a fantasy novel or something like that on their shelf. Proof that when we were twelve we had read the same, or similar things, made me feel a little more comfortable. And I don’t think that any of my roommates respected me less for bringing two volumes of Winnie-the-Pooh along.
10. Don’t be afraid to bring books home during breaks. By the end of second semester I think it is likely your bookshelf will have gotten a little full from the mixture of books you brought, Shimer Books, and books you bought or were given throughout the year. If you happen to go home during the breaks, take a few books with you, and it will make things a little easier when you have to pack up in May.