Monday, June 20, 2011


The first time the big bookcase fell over was on 22nd February, 2011. That was during the 6.3 magnitude earthquake and the aftershocks that continued to buck and roll under our feet that day and on the days that followed.

I had been at the movies with a friend when the first shock hit. I had come home after dark and crunched over CDs and stumbled over books which were all over the floor, together with the blue and white china elephant (still intact), the pottery bowl containing unwanted Singaporean money left by a departing visitor, and dainty matching vases (all broken). The other bookcases had also fallen over. So had chests of drawers, the contents of the pantry, most of the pictures on the walls and some of the crockery and glasses. There was no power, no water, and there was chaos everywhere in my city, already smashed by the thousands of earthquakes that had begun five months earlier.

The second time the big bookcase fell over was last week, on 13th June, 2011. I was sitting in the armchair directly in front of it, except that there was another armchair, and a table, between me and it. I watched it shudder, tip, lean, and then fall towards me in slow motion, spilling its contents as it came. The house was leaping, crackling and grumbling, the armchair was bouncing underneath me, and I watched the landslide of CDs and books tumble slowly to the floor.

That was during another 6.3 magnitude earthquake and the aftershocks that continued to buck and roll under our feet that day and on the days that followed.

It could only have taken seconds but it seemed longer. It was long enough for me to think, dammit, that I had only the week before finished sorting out the CDs and books into reasonable order after February’s big shake. So many books. I looked behind me, to the dining area. Another bookcase. More books on the floor. In the office, still more books.

The next day I made a decision. I was going to sort and discard: any books I wasn’t going to read again; any books that no one else was going to read, ever; any books that I hadn’t read but that I surely wasn’t going to live long enough to read; any books that the family wouldn’t even consider reading. And by “discard” I meant – gulp – throw away. In the bin.

I felt dreadful piling the unwanteds on the dining-room table. I had lived with those books for years, decades. I tipped armfuls into the bin and filled it to the brim, and lugged it down the drive just in time for the truck to collect in the darkness of the next morning.

Then I felt relief. The big bookcase is back against the wall and now, for the first time, it is screwed to the wall. There isn’t one book that I now wish I had kept. It’s too late anyway. R.I.P.