The Accidental Traveling Librarian; Or, The Material Culture Of Nomads

[Note: The intentionally and somewhat unwieldy title of this particular blog entry is an homage and a pastiche of the travelogues and other works of the 18th and 19th centuries of which I am so fond. Given that it is a somewhat obscure sort of reference, I figured it required an explanation. Also, the incorrect quadrant of Portland I am now living in was corrected from the original entry.]

As a child, I accidentally watched the movie “The Accidental Tourist” with my mother, in which a decent fellow is portrayed as enjoying traveling as unencumbered as possible with earthly possessions, preferring to travel with a single carry on and without any sort of check-in luggage. Although I am a reasonably experienced traveler myself, it has always been difficult for me to travel lightly, even if I have never had very much in the way of material possessions [1]. Even, for example, in my lightest and most sudden travels, I have been a beast of burden for those heaviest or bulkiest of carry-on luggage, the viola that is nearly uniformly confused with a violin, or, even more commonly, a backpack stuffed to an extent to threaten to break the zipper full of books.

Some of my books have been very well-traveled. Although I have managed to acquire (free of charge, in exchange for many honest reviews) an alarmingly large collection of books during my time in the Portland area over the last 15 months or so, I did start with quite a few books, enough to fill two backpacks, books that have at this point nearly circumnavigated the globe east from Tampa, Florida through New York City, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Chaing Mai, Thailand, Seoul-Incheon (in South Korea), then Vancouver, British Columbia finally to Portland, Oregon. At least one of my books came to Tampa, Florida from Los Angeles, California through Cincinnati, Ohio. It would not take too long for that particular book (a Thomas Nelson NKJV Study Bible that I purchased after my previous Bible had been stolen while it was in storage at the grocery store near my off-campus apartment in South Central Los Angeles that is now falling apart at the seams) to have traveled west to east around the world.

Now, of course, my alarmingly growing collection of books has been making its way gradually around the Portland area during my paripetic life in this area [2]. Having started in Happy Valley, they have gone to Gresham and then to Lents and now they are traveling with me to Beaverton. So far they have been in the Southeast part of Portland, the Northeast, and now the Southwest. Today I began the tedious task of the shlepping the books from the basement of the house we have been renting into my car to work, and then to our new condo after work. I will continue this particular task over the next couple of days, and hopefully I will be able to complete the task before too long. I do not have a great many earthly possessions as a result of my unsettled and nomadic life, but I do notice the books I have and how much effort it takes to drag them from place to place while I wander.

Throughout much of human history there was a uneasy balance between nomads and settled populations. The large amount of space that could support tribes meant that tribes were encouraged to move if they had difficulties with another tribe, and the lack of settlement and the flexibility of life allowed nomads a fair amount of freedom. Despite their lack of earthly possessions, there were enough advantages to their lifestyle that settling down was not necessarily a huge loss for many of them. That said, there was little change that the Sarmatians or Oghuz Turks or Mongols were going to schlep traveling libraries in horse or pony carts around the steppes of Central Asia and Eastern Europe and the deserts of the Middle East. There were advantages for settling, but also disadvantages in not being able to move as easily and being tied to one’s land for survival, which meant that defeat involved either slavery or destruction, with very little chance for escape. Of course, as a civilized nomad, I do drag around my own well-traveled library. I’ve always been odd, though.

Why do nomads have such a poor record of material culture, except in highly moveable cultural artifacts (like weapons or metalwork)? The most obvious reason is that libraries are not exactly the most mobile of possessions. Books are generally pretty heavy (especially when you are dragging them upstairs, as I have to do). It’s rather comical to look at, but not so much fun to do. I am still a bit puzzled as to how I have managed to collect so many books in such a short time. Clearly, if I’m going to be a nomad and a vagabond on the face of the earth, being an accidental traveling librarian is probably not the ideal way to go about it. But when have I done things the easy way to begin with?

[1] With one notable exception, to be discussed shortly.

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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