I had a note from one of my pick-up volunteers in response to my column about a certain collection. The beauty of the books was not foremost in mind
Books were picked up by the Dynamic Duo over a three day period. 75 boxes in all, that were in a three story brownstone house. Five boxes were on the first floor (8 steps), 20 boxes on the second floor (8+16 steps), and 50 boxes on the third floor (8+16+17 steps. 2570 steps in all.
I have discussed this with a number of volunteers over the years, and we have all come to the same conclusion: the warranty on our knees covers only so many stairs, but the number is blurred. We don’t know how many more steps we can handle, but we all feel, after the fifth trip up and down the stairs, that this next one might be the last one.
In my capacity as High Panjandrum With the Button on the Top at this Book Fair (that’s the English translation of what it says in my job description) I have considered simply adding “No stairs!” to my list of instructions to book donors. Yes, it would lose us donations from all those people who live in fifth-floor walkups, but the savings in wear and tear on volunteers might offset that. Some people do feel this would be unfair to them. These people are orthopedic surgeons.
But I am not going to ban stairs, much though my own skeletal system objects. This is because books, among other strange properties ignored by modern science, have the ability to flow upstream, generally while you’re not looking.
Look at that account by the picker-upper. Where were the majority of the books? Third floor. How do books get into the house? The front door on the first floor. How did they all manage those two flights o stairs?
Books are heavy. “Heavy as bricks” is the phrase I was taught by our first art book pricer, and his assessment has stood the test of time. And yet, once you’ve read them, and you aren’t paying attention, they move away from the center of your living space. In apartments, this means the back corner of the closet or a storage locker hidden behind the bicycle room and the laundry room. In one-story houses, this means the garage, the basement, or under the bed. But in the classic American house with white picket fence and roses around the door, this means upstairs, first to that back closet or guest bedroom, or farther, into that attic accessible only by ladder or skyhook.
So far, none of the volunteers have come to me with horror tales of climbing rope ladders to unlit, uninsulated crawlspaces in search of the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Otherwise I might at least have added the phrase “no ladders!” to the book donor instructions. Even then, I might pause: how can we resist the natural patterns of nature? In fact, maybe that’s what really causes the wear and tear on our knees as we carry cartons downstairs: in spite of the weight we feel pulling down, the books are really struggling to go even higher, and move even farther out of reach.
Instead, I’ll work on a related crusade my volunteers have supported: getting the phrase “light reading” stricken from the language.