Thursday, October 2, 2014

Shedding Books...Reluctantly

For everyone who collects, accumulates or hoards books, there eventually comes a point where you have to shed books. No doubt, if you fall into one of those three categories, you have changed residences at least once in your life, meaning you already know what it's like to lose friends and/or family. The last time I moved (which was the last time I moved), my father was one of the people who foolishly volunteered to help. After about the twentieth, maybe it was the twenty-fifth, box of books, he looked at me and said: "If you move again, Chula Vista is going to see its biggest bonfire...ever." Maybe he was just kidding, or maybe his back was hurting and he was feeling a little cranky--well, he is slightly older than I am, or used to be before my last birthday--but I decided not to take a chance, and have not moved since. Of course, losing friends and family is one thing, but losing books is another.

Arimintha's Complaint

Regular readers of this blog (I'm sure there must be a couple) will remember a similar complaint from Arimintha, our favorite playwright and game designer. Her reasons were valid and her solution very much a product of 21st Century technology (Kindle), but she did have to shed some real books, a process repeated very recently when she moved yet again, this time to beautiful and quiet Panorama City. The upside to all her moves is that with each relocation I receive books she previously "borrowed," and some new ones as well. I figure, two or three more changes of address and I might actually get back almost all the "borrowed" books. And, then, there's that whole Man, Myth & Magic set that takes up so much room...hint.

There have been two times in my life in which books have flowed out of my library rather than in, both a long time ago, the first time involuntarily, the second...well, not exactly voluntarily, but I had no other choice. The first time was when I enlisted in the US Army. I stored all my books with my mother (books [bunches], sci-fi & mystery magazines [lots], and comic books [lots more!]) and thought they were safe. Little did I know then, but not long after I boarded the bus for Los Angeles, Chula Vista was the site of an epic yard sale. Yes, painful when I found out, but you can't hold a grudge, not against your mother...well, not for more than two or three years.

The second time was in the 1980s, and was actually more painful than the first because I had to do it myself. I suppose if I had to describe it, it would be, maybe, self-surgery, like hacking off a limb or plucking out an eye, no anesthesia. If you've had to get rid of books, you already know what it's like, so there's no point in rehashing it. How did it happen? Hired away from a book company by firm of naval architects, only to be laid off six months later, and there you go. You think another job is around the corner, then the next corner, and the next, and the next...well, as it turns out, it's just corners, no jobs, and then you're standing on a corner with a tin cup. Nope, didn't do that...too much pride, same as what keeps a person from tying his life to the government dole (once they have you, they don't let go). Times were tough, I didn't have any prospects, but I did have books, lots of them (I restocked after that whole mother-yard-sale thing) and some were collectible.

By the time I finished going through my shelves, I had two paper bags full of books that I could lose without pain...well, not unbearable pain. All I had to do to follow through with my plan was to think of my family. Despite my rampant bibliomania (a "gentle madness" it's called) I really do value my family more. With my two bags of books in arm, I took the bus downtown and made my rounds of the bookstores. My first jaunt to downtown San Diego had been more than twenty years earlier to find several dozen bookstores, from vast emporiums to tiny hole-in-the-wall places sandwiched between sleazy bars and gritty tattoo parlors. This time, however, I found only a handful of survivors of those halcyon days, most being kept afloat, not by the reading public but by the collecting elite. Somewhere along the way, reading had become a lost art, a trivial and foolish waste of time.

Since reading was no longer a recreation of the masses, a few "common" books went back home with me. The others were collectible enough to warrant offers from booksellers, some of them at least. Most sellers were no longer buying because the marketplace was dying, but a few stores justified my long and depressing trip downtown. By the time I finished, I had three checks in my pocket and a half-dozen books I was glad to take home. I cashed the checks at a bank downtown, took the thirty pieces of silver, and waited for the bus home. Of course, things have changed downtown over the ensuing three decades, most notably in number of bookstores. Now, there are none; they have all gone under, though one did go up in smoke. And to make the transformation of downtown complete, the bank where I cashed the checks (showing my library card as a second ID) is now a hotel and most of the bars and tattoo parlors have been replaced by parking lots and empty government-subsidized buildings.

But, as I wrote earlier, if you yourself are a collector, accumulator or hoarder, you already know what this is like, the pain of shedding books, the depression as you look at the small stack of bills in your hand. No matter what you received, it isn't enough, and will be gone far too soon. Personally, I try not to think about how much money I did or didn't receive. Instead, I choose to console myself with the knowledge that two bags of books (minus a half-dozen) bought eight bags of groceries...but I still do miss the books.