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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I Don't Want my Books Anymore, and I'm Going to Hell

Something is going on with me. I don't want my books anymore.

I know, I know! I'm a bad person! I'm like that couple who sent back their adopted kid. I'm TOTALLY going to Hell.

It's weird. I'm a one-time book scout, whose idea of paradise was trolling through someone else's attic or thrift store dumpster in search of a choice modern first edition. And I found a few! My best snag? Booked to Die, by John Dunning, a nifty mystery about a burnt-out Colorado cop and rare book collector who investigates the murder of his book scout friend. (Life imitating art imitating life). I found it at the bottom of a bin in a thrift store somewhere in Virginia about 15 years ago, paid maybe a couple bucks. I sold it for $300.

But selling them was never the point. It was the hunt, the sighting, the conquest. I'd bring them home, clean them with lighter fluid (don't try this at home), wrap the dust jackets in protective bro-darts, read them, and shelf them in Barrister's bookcases. I sang to them at night. We were a family.

But, now. I don't know. They're bugging me. The whole fam damily, from Atwood to Yates. They're just...sitting there.

I'm tempted to blame my emotional detachment on the growing proliferation of ebooks and edevices. I've always poo-pooed such doo-doo. You can't smell a Kindle, I'm fond of saying. You can't pencil notes in the margin. You can't arrange it on your coffee table in a pretentious display of literary elitism. And whatever will you do with your collection of bookmarks made from the wings of monarch butterflies? (Note to The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Monarch Butterflies: I was just kidding.)

A friend-my-age recently extolled the virtues of his Nook, and I listened politely. While he obviously had great regard for ideas, it was apparent he felt no connection to the physical book itself. "It's just a thing," he said. "I have too many things." I was upset with him. Books aren't things. They're...books!

Yet I feel his attitude growing on me and my attachment to books lessening each day. Perhaps I see them as conquests that have lost their allure. Perhaps they seem passe (who reads Saul Bellow anymore? Robert Stone? Rick Bass?) Perhaps they remind me that my own books will be culled from library bookshelves one day, only to end up on somebody's lawn in a box marked $.25. Perhaps they remind me of my own mortality. (Aha! NOW we're getting to it.)

Last week, a friend posted on FB that he needed books for his church bazzaar. I told him to bring as many boxes as would fit in his car and haul himself out here. An hour before he arrived, I got cold feet. I gave him about eight boxes of paperbacks, but I didn't let him near my hardbacks. I wasn't ready.

When I was ready, I emailed a friend who deals in used books. I offered him first refusal. He declined. "There's no market for modern firsts," he said. "They don't have the value they once did."

Then I called Chop Suey Books, and I thought Ward-the-enthusiastic-owner would take them all away, but he cherry-picked. "It's the economy," he said. "Everyone is selling books, no one is buying. I have doubles and triples of most of the things I see here." I must have looked as if he had just said my dog was ugly, because he added, "But they're nice books. If I were starting out, it would be a great seed library." He took away a measly two boxes.

I contacted The Library of Virginia. They would love to have the ones by Virginia authors. I'm glad. They deserve a good home. I guess I'll give the others to the public library, but there's not a Dan Brown, JK Rowling or Steig Larsson in the lot. When the Library Book Sale is over, mine will probably still be sitting in the dark. As for our soldiers, sure, they can have them, but...Robertson Davies? Really? They'll probably end up throwing them at the enemy.
Be assured, whatever I do with them, I'll be sensitive and responsible. I've smelled them, read them, had them neutered. They were my precious things.

Now, they're artifacts for the new wave, ideas for future heads to hold.


  1. I've given away lots of books via BookCrossing. One of my books even made it's way to South Africa. I never found out how. I send books to soldiers via my connections to the web site BooksForSoldiers and pass them along to family and friends. I discovered like you that Ward will only take some books so others go to the library or the thrift store. I will not, however, get rid of my Steig Larssons, my Neal Stephensons, my Douglas Adams, my Philip Pullmans, or any of my reference books. Not yet, at least.

  2. When I helped my parents move out of their house after 25 years they had loads of loads of books (many of them were mine).

    At the garage sale I put up a big sign "FREE BOOKS" which drew a big crowd. They took books and felt bad about it so bought some stuff off the tables as well.

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