I’m getting ready to move, and all I can think of is what I can possibly carry with me.
In a month, I’ll be going to South Korea for a couple of weeks, and it’ll be an opportunity to take some of my belongings with me before I move my whole life there next year for my Korean military service. I immediately thought, “I should take my books!” I’m a young adult beginning to assemble a host of STUFF I’ll carry around for the rest of my life. I reckoned my beloved books deserve such treatment.
Books, the pagey, dusty, heavy sort, have always carried for me a memory of self. I’m sure you can point to a particular author or perhaps a series of books that captivated your imagination when you were growing up. For me, from elementary school to when I last went back home to Uganda the summer of my freshman year of college, I read and re-read the Little House on the Prairie series. There I was, a young Korean boy growing up in a rural village in East Africa and being completely enchanted by the life of a young girl and her family moving out into the American West. Her stories described the wonder of my childhood experiences. Both of us had found ourselves in our migration into rough and unknown places.
I left those books behind, and I miss them dearly. As I weigh another geographic displacement, this time from Michigan to Korea, I feel I should carry my books with me. I could tuck them away in the corner of my military-issued bunk-side shelf, and they’d whisper memories I only would know (and quite possibly send out an air of foreign erudition to my fellow Korean military men).
Yet, despite the wealth of memories I associate with my books, I can’t help but think of how much easier it would be to dump all those weighty books into a Kindle that would neatly fit into my carry-on. In the face of the logistical nightmare that is air travel, I have to consider the Kindle, for the umpteenth time, and justify purchasing it on the measure of sheer practicality. It would just be so much less to carry.
Much less to carry, yes, but, as often is the case, a sense of comfort does not accompany the prospect of convenience. Even after I’ve been told by my bibliophilic friends who’ve purchased e-readers that they still keep and value physical books, I’m afraid of the unforeseen consequences of change.
Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa, describes how one passes through change whilst leaving a familiar place. In the following scene, she’s leaving her home in Kenya and boarding a train for the coast to go back to Europe.
When in the end, the day came on which I was going away, I learned the strange learning that things can happen which we ourselves cannot possibly imagine, either beforehand, or at the time when they are taking place, or afterwards when we look back on them. Circumstances can have a motive force by which they bring about events without aid of human imagination or apprehension. On such occasions you yourself keep in touch with what is going on by attentively following it from moment to moment, like a blind person who is being led, and who places one foot in front of the other cautiously but unwittingly. Things are happening to you, and you feel them happening, but except for this one fact, you have no connection with them, and no key to the cause or meaning of them… Those who have been through such events can, in a way, say that they have been through death – a passage outside the range of imagination, but within the range of experience.
I’m afraid of what might happen during transition, and I’m trying my best to prepare for what might come afterwards. I hope the valuable objects I take with me will anchor me once I make passage from one place to another. Without them, I fear I’ll lose access to the immediacy and particularity of my personal experiences. I fear I’ll lose control.
As I’m forced to reconsider the value of these objects, especially my books, I’ve noticed that I tend to place more value on familiar things, precisely because I think I can exercise control over them: my comfortable job, the intimate relationships I have, and even my personal library of books.
But they’re things I can’t all carry with me, and I don’t think I should.
I’m going to take a new Kindle and a few of my books. Something new and some of old. What happens in between, according to Blixen, anyways, we can’t even
Blixen, Karen. (1937). Out of Africa (Vol. 9, 2001). Penguin, UK.
Greg Kim (’14) graduated with a BA in history and international relations. He lived in Grand Rapids for a year and has since moved back to South Korea to fulfill his mandatory military service.