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It Could Be Worse · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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The Library With No Shelves
Some of this stuff has lasted over fifty years, old enough that the boxes themselves have memories that pull me back through the decades. I see shipping addresses, canceled stamps, scribbled lines from previous moves.

The boxes stand row on row, balanced on top of each other. Sometimes I wrought well with the books and packed them so that they neatly and evenly filled the box from top to bottom, making the box solid and firm and uncompressible. I call these foundational boxes. They are the best to put at the bottom of a stack. You can fill a copy paper box neatly with paperback books, it leaves a space at the corner that you can fill with some socks to keep the books from shifting. There are small tricks you learn as you go, and I think of all the time I spent in swapping books of varying thickness from each stack, pressing down on them from the top to make sure that the stacks were all of even height and all would reach and support the lid.

After the move, the boxes are jumbled because the movers don't care much for how well you optimized things, and you have to do it all again at a meta level, picking boxes that are solid to go at the base, seeing which ones got squashed in transit, inspecting the fragile ones and listening for the sounds of broken glass, and packing them neatly into closets, cabinets, attic, the garage, the living room, the bedroom... all just for now, until I get it sorted out. I'll start unpacking them soon. There are hundreds of them, each one a fossil or a casting of a bit of life, a point of connection even if it's nothing otherwise useful, more books than could be read in a normal active lifetime.

I am a trifle more callous about them, after so many moves, so much time, so much money, spent on things that lurk in dark boxes, sealed in shadow, unread while I step outside into the sun and see what the future has brought to me.

I will scan them this time. It's easier to scan a book when you care more about the text than about the book itself. You just cut the spine off with a bandsaw and put it in the auto document feeder. Then you... throw the book away. Over and over. Until there's room for a few more boxes of books, here and there.

And the scanned books can all go onto a thumb drive, for me to read someday, some time when I am not busy scanning more books.

It could be worse. There could be a fire.
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#1 · 3
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Not really a story, just a vignette -- but in itself that's fair game in the minific category.

The confessions of a compulsive bibliophile who has moved a lot and is apparently well into the autumn of life. It sounds like there are books they haven't even unpacked for fifty years! Or are they simply reusing the same boxes from move to move? But it sounds like they are actually keeping at least some of the books in boxes between moves.

The only hint of conflict is the narrator's intention to scan the books instead of holding on to them physically. That doesn't really ring true to me, though I'll willingly believe they're telling themself that. But realistically, if you bought a book decades ago and haven't ever gotten around to reading it, how can you tell yourself with a straight face you "care more about the text"?

Of course, that's the point here -- that the narrator isn't being rational. Very well, but then what? They come across as moderately eccentric but not dangerous or unhappy. I end up wondering why we're being told this.
#2 · 3
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
A very fascinating read. Both my mother and I always collected books, even if it took a long time to read them and we had to pack them carefully in boxes, so this rang a lot truer to me than it may for some others. Focusing on the protagonist’s methods for packing boxes and how they make space for their books creates a very fascinating insight into their life. I also liked the idea that they keep creating new excuses for why they kept the books, then why they are destroying them. It shows a certain conflict of thought: If books are so important, why are you destroying them? I felt like the narrator had changed after a series of moves, where he suddenly realized he didn’t really care all that much about the books he saved (particularly the ones he didn’t read), so he’s trying to destroy them and save them at the same time. A sort of cognitive dissonance wrought by his changing perspective of life.

The primary issue I have with the piece is the sheer amount of description given to the packing of the boxes, but the relatively brief descriptions afterwards. I kind of wanted to see more of the narrator’s shift in thinking about their books, maybe through how they treated them (i.e. they would toss them on a bed later in life instead of carefully placing them in a bookshelf). The story still had around 300 more words it could use, so it felt like a waste when the narrator just gave terse two line statements about their books afterwards instead of any detailed description about how they grew more callous towards their books. If there’s any revision to this piece in the future, I would definitely expand upon that section.

Other than that, a pretty solid vignette about a change in perspective as one gets older.
#3 · 2
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
…or your thumb drive could get erased or just broken.

The circumstances make the author of this plain. I don’t share that callousness. I wouldn't maim a book, EVER. Even if said book is destined to be jailed forever in a titanium trunk, whose key has been lost, itself thrown down a well.

Other than that, it’s a vignette, as someone said. It’s well written, though. EVEN THOUGH YOU’RE A SAVAGE, MISTER AUTHOR! :p
#4 · 3
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Hm, a story about moving. I know who I'll be guessing as the author.

I think this one is likely to be hit or miss with readers. Someone who's done this kind of thing before and can relate to it would find it more engaging. I've definitely done the thing where you try to get the boxes perfectly full. I like the atmosphere about how this is an exercise in futility, as it's unlikely the speaker will ever read them all, but he goes through the motions anyway, because it's just what he's supposed to do. And then the waste of never getting to them being conflated with the waste of throwing them away (please at least recycle the paper!). Likewise, the story being so front-loaded with how the boxes themselves are packed, it does a good job of setting atmosphere and getting into where the speaker is focused, but I don't know how well it would engage a reader who has no connection to the subject matter.

The last line was very stark, though, and I could take it a couple of different ways. One, the usual "things could be worse" platitude to remind the speaker that he doesn't have it so bad. And two, that morbid fleeting wish that it might be easier to have it all come tumbling down and forced to reset, which I've entertained in the past when faced with mounting home repairs. As long as it's insured, of course...

For one, I do think this is more than a vignette, as there is a conflict presented and overcome, albeit one that's already been solved and occurred off-camera. We're just getting the denouement, after the speaker has already become weary of dealing with it.
#5 · 1
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
You would think today
You might as well sell them
You could even give them away

My shit poem aside, I've sold or given so many things away that I've invested in. Thrown out my share of things too. They're just things and in the end you can't take them with you. You know this of course.

It'll be okay.
#6 · 1
>>Troposphere, >>libertydude, >>Monokeras, >>Pascoite, >>Griseus

The Library With No Shelves

Thanks for the gold. 'Grats to Liberty and Mono, condolence hug to Griz.

Thanks for the wonderful comments! I had very little time to contribute to this event, and had started something on the first day that I didn't entirely feel comfortable with completing. I decided to sleep on it and finish up in the morning.

I woke up with about 40 minutes left on the clock, tossed out what I'd written the previous day, and ran with my current source of inspiration, the horrors and joys of moving. I'm going to be rather predictable on this for another week or so; I will strive to be of broader interest afterward.

I'm going to wind up leaving a lot of stuff behind or throwing it in the trash. However it turns out, it probably beats a fire.

This is a 'foundational' copy-paper box of paperback books.