Eric Burns: A Very Moving Story

Alert “06880” reader Eric Burns — prolific author, Fox News Watch media analyst for the network and Entertainment Tonight commentator and former Westporter — writes:

I moved to Ridgefield after my divorce because I wanted to get away from everything and everybody.

Bad idea.

I felt isolated. I drove into Westport 2 or 3 times a week, to Trader Joe’s, Christie’s Service Station, Five Guys, Acqua, Baker Graphics, Barnes and Noble, the Library — all of them places with which I am familiar, all of them places that I missed.

I spent a lot of money on gas, a lot of time on the road. Finally, I decided I had to move back.

Eric Burns...

Eric Burns…

But because I have about 2,300 books, I found no place in Westport that could accommodate them in a single room. So, next best thing. I moved to Norwalk, where my daughter and her fiance live — and, I hope, close to where my son will live when he finishes grad school.

I started preparing for the move a month before the van was due, filling 10 small boxes a day. I numbered them carefully, and carried them from my upstairs library into the garage. I am certain that, single-handedly, and not especially well-muscled, I moved at least a ton of product.

I lined up the boxes perfectly, in numerical order. I told the movers that when they unloaded the books into my new library, they needed to do just 2 things.  First, put the boxes on the floor in chronological order in front of the shelves.  Second, set down the boxes so I could see the numbers on them.

Because of the way I had prepared the boxes for loading on the van, it should have been an easy task for 4 men.

The ending of the story should be obvious.  My new library — a furnished basement on Linden Street — now contains 287 boxes of books in no particular order. Most are without the number showing. Some are upside down, others broken apart with books scattered into other boxes.

...surrounded by boxes...

…surrounded by random boxes…

Yesterday I found box #1. Now I have to go through 286 boxes to find number 2.  It could take an hour — to find one box. One box scattered senselessly in a pile of 286 boxes, which might just as well have been thrown on the floor from the top of the steps.

It took the 4 men from the moving company an hour and a half to wreak their havoc. Because of a bad back, and the fact that I am but one person, it will take me a week or more to find the right boxes, and fill the bookcases in their proper order. Even spreading the work out over that much time, I still expect sharp, stabbing pains in my back.

I am not young. Nor am I a professional mover.

I emailed the company to complain. They offered to clean up the mess. All I had to do was kick in an additional $119. I declined the offer. I had, I said, already paid my bill.

...and empty shelves.

…and empty shelves.

I love the feel of a book, the look of it, the scent of it — even, on occasion, the heft of it.  Now, for the first time, I find myself thinking longingly of a Kindle.

Do you remember the old TV show “All My Sons”? Not very funny, but pleasant enough, and successful in its time. Do you know the moving company All My Sons? Forget it.

Yet even with the shoddy work of some of All My Sons’ sons, I’m happy to be back near Westport. On May 21 I will speak at the Westport Library about my next book, 1920: The Year That Made the Decade Roar.

By that time my library will be intact. I will not say a word about the moving company that made the author roar, nor the amount of time it took me to find my copy of the book, a needle in the haystack of 2,300 such items.

18 responses to “Eric Burns: A Very Moving Story

  1. Roberta tager

    I have/ had such a library filled with professional and metaphysical healing books.
    For the past several years I have been looking for good homes for these personally acquired treasures. Once in a while, some facility rep comes over to take a few shopping bags full…the senior center has some….as do some friends…not enough yet adopted.
    Letting go is replaced with feelings of wonderful lightness and freedom for me,

  2. Mary Ruggiero

    We all carry different baggage. For some it’s books, others furniture, mine ?assorted stuff including 6 pets. When I moved I started liberating myself from some of my treasures in the knowledge that that way I could decide what to do with them, what new homes they would go to: habitat, friends, good will or…the dump. Because later on, at some point, others would make those decisions, perhaps with less care and diligence. I am lighter now, more free, but my pets are part of my liberation and will stay right here with me.

  3. Marcia Wright

    I can relate to the havoc wreaked by a moving company charged with the task of moving books. When I relocated, I had to have shelves built to accommodate my treasures, like an encyclopedia from my grandfather published in the early 1900s; wikipedia pales by comparison.
    I hope your son returns to the area, Mr Burns. He was in my 7th-grade English class the year you moved to Westport. I would loved to catch up with him.

  4. Great story & insight. 🙂

  5. Mark Demmerle

    I share the same burden. Not nearly as big a library as Mr. Burns, but even 1200 books can wait a body down. During my last move I was surprised at how often I indulge myself with new release hard cover books. I thought I was a thrifty wait until the paperback issue arrives, but not so. Most of my library is literature although there are engineering books and ‘gift’ books that I could never part with. I reference some of my books but never re-read the literature. I am in conflict over donating the literature. Maybe next move I will tire of dragging around a library and let go of most of the literature. I own a nook which seems to solve some bookcase issues I have but I simply don’t like reading books on a device. I should use the library more often.

  6. Scott Brodie

    Dear Mr. Burns,

    Your library book carton sorting problem could be substantially helped by implementing an efficient “sorting algorithm” — such as the “quicksort” or “heapsort” procedures. These typically reduce the number of stops from something like n^2 – in your case, perhaps reducing some 80,000 steps to perhaps less than 2000 (in technical terms, going from O(n^2) to O(n ln n) steps). Perhaps this would be a good project for Dan’s Staples soccer team — they are often looking for good deeds to do, and they would surely learn something useful about sorting algorithms along the way — and no doubt could get this done for you in an afternoon!

    • Ernie Lorimer

      I was thinking the very same thing but couldn’t remember if it was n ln n or n! steps. It makes sense even for small sorting problems, like bills.

  7. Jack Whittle

    Like Mr. Burns I like my books – the feel of a book, the ability to be read anywhere, regardless of power or internet connection, the ability to lend a book to a friend or hand a book to a son or daughter as if a prescription, and the accumulation of a library reflecting one’s literary travels. Sometimes I visually wander my bookshelves and, recognizing something, take a book down to re-read a favorite passage, or get lost in the whole book again. Of course, my 26 year old daughter thinks maintaining a physical library is something from a by-gone era, and yet, even though she is the well-read deep thinker, her e-library is quite sparse – even though the ability to keep books one has read on their nook, kindle or iPad is what she points to as the modern-day equivalent of my library.

    I think I’ll be keeping my books for a while yet; I hope Mr. Burns does too. Once he gets them sorted.

  8. Eric, I feel your pain. My wife and I boxed up our entire library so that we could engineer and construct all new shelves that didn’t overtax the floor plate of our 1920’s house. Though admittedly a first world problem, the time spent living out of a box, as it were, was disorienting and sometimes worse. For what it’s worth, reconnecting with all our books through the act of putting them on new shelves was time well spent. With fresh eyes, I was amazed at all the things we had that I didn’t know I was looking for. I have little interest in Kindles; we live in a physical world and besides, anything truly worthwhile requires suffering. I wish you the best of luck with your new basement library – at least you won’t have to worry about the floor caving in.

  9. Susan Hopkins

    “I love the feel of a book, the look of it, the scent of it — even, on occasion, the heft of it.”

    Ahhh … as do I, Mr. Burns. It will be long while before I go ‘not-so-gently into that good night’ in terms of separating me from my beloved books.

  10. Dear Eric,
    I completely empathize with the anger and anguish you felt when a simple request of lining up the boxes in numerical order face up, was summarily violated. When you hire workers and they can’t perform a simple act in the fashion that is expected, your fee should be waived by the owner of the company. No matter what the job, workers should be instructed to care for the possessions of the client the way they would want to be treated themselves. I am sorry that unpacking and organizing the books again is going to take weeks, when it should take less than half the time. Let me know if you need my help.

  11. Jill Turner Odice

    Having a writer for a father, I grew up surrounded by books. As a result, I have been carting around 100’s of books each time I move also. I went through a similar experience the last time I moved. I spent days marking and arranging what I wanted to put into storage and what I wanted to bring to my new home. As I was moving cross country, I had a box of tripticks, books and maps from AAA for each state. Of course the guys packing the truck paid no attention to anything and just loaded everything into the truck including my box of maps 🙂 I found the box in the middle of the load later. I got a KIndle Fire for Christmas a few years ago and love it, but still cannot bring myself to getting rid of my hard cover book collection. Hopefully next time I move somebody else will be doing all the lifting and it will be the last time I relocate 🙂

  12. Hate to be the cynic, but it looks like Eric might have saved $119 (or more) by getting packing boxes from the USPS rather than buying them…

  13. I noticed the same thing, Kathi. You’re not the cynic. If true, then WE helped pay for them.

  14. I have to admit that seeing all of those USPS boxes bothered me as well. I really hope that Mr. Burns worked out a deal with the Post Office and didn’t just walk off with 287 boxes!

  15. Juliana Sloane Fulbright

    I really identified with this story. After many moves around here, I was born in Westport ,I inherited and bought many books, in the thousands since my father was a Senior editor in special books dept. at Doubleday. I had many beautiful books. The two hurricanes got some of them and the rest, except for special family books I donated to the library in Westport. Dick from the library is very happy to come with a helper and go over books and take some for the sale. I feel much lightened but still can’t find many things since we moved to our rental. I think we had the same movers! I do miss the books too but there is always the library.

  16. Sorry for the all-too-predictable ending. Just one question that all of us should know and be helped by: What was the name of the moving company — you know, the one you gave such specific instructions to?

  17. Oops, I misread the end of your essay. The moving company has been outed!!