Books. Our pathway to knowledge. They offer answers to our inquisitive questions and satisfy our curiosity. Books provide wisdom and whimsy. They teach us to wonder and they inspire us to imagine. They fill our down-time and put it to good use. Expressed another way, books are what separates us from other species.
All of that is true. But did I mention they are also the bane of my existence?
Like most people, I have accumulated over the decades a ridiculous number of books. Most of them I don’t remember buying. I feel a little like Erasmus, the Dutch humanist, who once confessed: “When I have a little money, I buy books. If I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”
I don’t recall purchasing Naked Came the Manatee by Carl Hiaasen and a dozen co-authors, but clearly I did.
For that matter, what was I thinking when I coughed up $9.95 for 12 Red Herrings by Jeffrey Archer? I’m at a loss as well to explain finding a spot on my shelves for Don’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier. No offense, you guys.
Evidently I, along with the rest of the nation, was fascinated by the O.J. Simpson murder case back in the 1990s. I seem to have every book written on the case by the Goldmans, the prosecutors, the defense attorneys, Kato Kaelin, and O.J. himself. All of them were enriched by me because I couldn’t say no to their blatant rush to cash in on the notoriety.
I have almost as big a collection of books on the presidency of Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal that brought him down. I wish I had the money back that I spent on them. Then maybe I’d buy a book I’d actually read.
In that regard, I’m guessing I’ve read maybe one fourth of the books I own. The rest sit gathering dust on the bookshelves, in the closets, on the nightstands, on the desks — anywhere there’s available space.
Some of these books were gifts, I’m sure, because I know I never sought them out at Barnes and Noble. Others are books I reviewed at one time or another for The Blade.
My collection is mostly non-fiction, a lot of history mostly. Perhaps I’m the type of guy Jane Austen had in mind when she wrote the following: “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not taken pleasure in a good novel must be intolerably stupid.”
She was an excellent judge of character, I have to admit. Of course, Ms. Austen also said “One cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty.” Tough not to be offended by that.
I tried counting all the books that clutter up my house. I stopped at 500, and I had a long way to go. There must be a million of them. Maybe I’ll sue “Books-a-Million” for trademark infringement.
This is a problem in search of a solution, and there are solutions.
The most obvious one is throwing all these books away. Somehow I just can’t. My books are like my distant cousins. I don’t get in touch very often, but they’re family. I can’t make them leave just because a few smell bad.
Besides, hauling them (the books, not the cousins) from the den to the garbage can, three or four at a time, would be a project that would take several months to complete.
A second and more noble option is to donate them to the public library. Here’s the problem with that. Books are heavy, especially when packaged up together. Ever try lifting a crate full of books? Plus, I figure I’d need about 60 crates, each weighing 50 pounds or more. You do the math.
I’d have to impose yet again on my friend with the pickup truck, and he doesn’t want a hernia any more than I do.
For that matter, how do I know the library would even accept them? How many copies of Gone With the Wind does any library need? What if the gentle ladies at the front desk take one look at the forklift I rode in on and tell me, in a cordial whisper of course, that I should just take all my books back home?
At that point I’m sure a visit to the landfill will suddenly seem more attractive.
If that day comes, I will swallow hard and do the right thing. But there will be a few books I will refuse to take to the dump. They will go back home again.
They include Jamie Farr’s Just Farr Fun, a book that reflects the humanity and playfulness of the man who wrote it, one of the kindest souls I’ve ever met. Plus, he signed it for me.
I’ll also hang on to A Pirate Looks at Fifty, Jimmy Buffett’s bio, although a biography written at age 50 is by definition an incomplete tale. And maybe I’ll keep all my books about baseball, especially a rare one given to me by my boss, John Robinson Block, about the 1954 World Series.
See my problem?
Despite my determination to unload most of my books, I remain a bibliophile. I am comforted by the words of that great philosopher Groucho Marx, who once said: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Sunday. His radio commentary, “Life As We Know It,” can be heard every Monday at 5:44 p.m. during “All Things Considered” on WGTE FM 91. Contact him at:firstname.lastname@example.org.
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