Saturday, July 21, 2012

Twenty-eight boxes of books.

I transported twenty eight boxes of books when I moved from Massachusetts to Virginia. Not the 12 bottle booze boxes.They were Baker & Taylor, library jobber, boxes; easily twice the volume of  liquor boxes. Once here, I was able to unpack and shelve all of them; my one bedroom apartment in Weymouth  did not have the room.Such is the curse of an inveterate  bibiliophile and packrat. A colleague at my new employer sneered at her father's collection of  books, calling it "macho trophy collecting", like game. I held my tongue.

I did not stop buying books: my employer has excellent book sales, and, for a Southern city, Richmond has decent bookstores. Plus the mom n' pop store at the beach is excellent. Several years into my residence here, it became apparent a weed of the collection would be necessary. First back in the boxes were graduate school titles: esoteric stuff on information theory,outdated selection guides for mid-sized libraries, and similar books. Easy. Then to undergrad and personal interest titles.Science fiction anthologies and novels; most of the Hemingway and Fitzgerald titles; years of the World Radio and Television Handbook; an entire duplicate run of Wodehouse; etc.,and other books which if I wanted to read again, a decent public library would own . I even got rid of my Edmund Spenser. My mistake; we'll get to that in a minute.Not going into the discard boxes were gifts from family and friends; history, ancient,aviation,nautical; books owned by family members; and books I felt I could not do without (Twain; all of Hunter Thompson; Anthony Burgess; Paul Theroux; Pynchon; various editions of Moby Dick; ditto Walden and other Throreau titles; plus English Romantic prose and poetry). My grandfather owned maybe five books; I inherited one. I have several of my father's books as well as several bins of gun books (under the eaves) which he used in his business and to write his book. Very specialized stuff; none went. I donated eight boxes to my local library. I do not want to speculate on their fate.

The other night I thought, "hmmm, nothing to read", an absurd statement in this house; " I will read my Spenser anthology.". Wrong answer, RR: gone. Worse, the local library does not own any Spenser. My employer owns it, but they are 47 miles away. Libraries  have given up the 'core collection', archival concept, and have traded it in for the bookstore model, which to me is the emperor's new clothes. We have to be relevant, reduce runs of shelving to shorter cases that display like a bookstore, blahblahblah.Swell if  you want to concentrate on the NY Times bestseller rubbish; not so great for book dorks like me. There may be an answer, from an unexpected source.

I bought the missus a Nook for our anniversary, set up a wireless network , and she immediately began loading it up (very fast downloads, I must say) for reading on our trip. Very convenient, though there is not a wide selection for nonfiction readers. There are ways around that. An observation on our e-reader. Books, no matter how many pages, all look the same on it (and, presumably, other brands). Which gets me to the physicality of reading. I have a Signet Classics edition from 1960 (cover price .50) of Kidnapped . Nice dense, still white pages, and here it is: the book has a scent. It is a scent which, when I read it (again and again), impels me to snuffle the pages. That scent transports me back to the days of reading under the covers with a flashlight after lights out. The damndest thing....The weight of a book, a real book, is a comfort to me. With an e-reader, Moby Dick has the same heft as the very thin A Coney Island of the Mind. Not always a bad thing:  I can schlepp a bunch of books on e-reader much easier than I can a box of books.


Lorenzo da Ponte said...

Time for lunch and then the final stage of the Tour de France. I will return.

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

Other than whom we fall in love with, book ownership is the greatest test of honesty vs. sentimentality, facts vs. impressions, value vs. posemanship, contents vs. associations.

Book ownership has attracted more crap writing (Not in your case, dear RR) than anything other than affairs of the heart. Merely by listing book titles we run the risk of boasting: a word to the wise, nudge-nudge wink-wink, "look at me; aren't I the clever one" and the rest. Ironically when we talk of disposing of books we are closer to honesty than we are writing about their acquisition. Provided we do what you have done and list what's junked.

You have retained your father's books even though (I'm guessing, here) you're unlikely to read them. As you might have retained your father's wristwatch or his pipe. We are all endowed with visual and tactile senses and we need physical objects as well as memories to create retrospective links. For the same reason I have retained my mother's poetry books.

But what have I kicked out? First thing: far fewer titles, simply because my accumulation seems to be smaller than yours. Crossing and re-crossing the Atlantic, with six years in between, saw to that. I'm hard pressed to remember them in categories although one grouping does emerge: books bought at library sales. Inevitably sentimentality is at its lowest with these. Prices were peanuts and the decision to buy often speculative. These books were frequently re-bound and had virtually no visual appeal. The titles pop up grudgingly: A S Byatt's novel Babel Tower, an eponymous travel book called Tschiffeley's Ride (by mule from somewhere in northern USA to Tierra del Fuego), a gigantic catalogue, three or four years old, of CDs. Single best-selling paperbacks by authors like XX Paterson and Ludlum bought in a state of great dubiety to check whether they had any value. Oh gosh, I'm running out of names. Not entirely surprising since in purging such books one also purges their memory.

A ten-volume set of encyclopedias (in French) devoted to ceramics and china. Several Martin Amis paperbacks. A biography of Berlioz.

And now I've ground to a halt though I know there have been more. Several coffee-table books (ie, more illustrations than text) but why did I acquire them in the first place? More titles as and when I can remember and if they're significant.