Don't Judge a Book By Its Neighbors

Now, honest and for truly, I don’t want you friends of fine libraries to become self-conscious about your book donations. Yes, I know I’ve complained about the boxes you use. And the bags. And your bookmarks and inscriptions. And all those paper clips and rubber bands, and clipped-out illustrations, as well as your taste in literature and your housekeeping habits.

But that’s no reason to assume I don’t WANT your books.

Take just the other day, when somebody cleaned out the attic and brought me gifts. These books had been lined up, spine upmost, in a single layer in about twenty boxes. They could have been packed properly–in half that many boxes–but if that had happened, the family might never have decided to make room in the attic by sending me the books. And that would have been tragic.

Since the books were packed this way in boxes without lids, the dust of the next thirty years was evenly spread among them, instead of being only on the top layer. Cities and entire civilizations of spiderwebs rose, flourished, and fell into decay. The attic was damp only in one corner, so only a very small number of the books were afflicted with mold. Two or three did appear to be chewed, however.

But am I complaining? Nay, I say thee: not so! It just looks like complaining in the black and white lettering of a blog. I wouldn’t want you to think I hated this collection simply because about a third of it went to the recycling bin and I had to go wash my hands after each box.

Because tucked away amongst the dust and debris were a book and a magazine in Russian. I’ve mentioned before how later generations lose the ability to read what the immigrant ancestors brought along. Book and magazine were published–fairly cheaply, it appears—in Paris in 1928. They contain prose and poetry, and one picture of a group of people, perhaps the contributors or subscribers (or both.)

What could a bunch of Russians have been writing poetry about in Paris in 1928? I’m betting it wasn’t “Happy birthday, Joe Stalin”. Maybe this is a valuable artifact and maybe it’s just different, but it made the dust and grime a little more acceptable.

Another collection came in this week: also from an attic, although this box had a lid, and the books, though dry, are nice and clean. They have sat undisturbed since 1969 or so, a nearly complete collection of the works of W.H. Hudson. Hudson, I’m told, was a very readable writer, whether in fiction or nonfiction, and very interested in nature. His works suffer from the fact of his having written a book—Green Mansions—which immediately went on everybody’s Must-Read list. It’s been adapted for movies and comic books, and has cast everything else he wrote into the shade.

This does not, alas, make for a valuable collection, though, as I say, I’ve heard that a number of his other books are great fun, and Green Mansions is still a Must-Read. (I had three other copies of it come in this week; you’ll find it in Literature come July.) And, as noted, the owner has not touched them since about 1969.

I know this because he grabbed a piece of scratch paper to write “All W.H. Hudson” to toss into the box so people would know what he’d packed. The piece of paper he grabbed was a flyer inviting Eugene McCarthy fans to Midway Airport to greet him as he arrived in Chicago for the Democratic National Convention. His supporters hoped that a spontaneous demonstration in his honor would sway the delegates.

I don’t know how that one came out: one thing the 1968 convention did not lack for was spontaneous demonstrations. Anyhow, this flyer, as a little piece of Chicago history, might wind up selling for more than any three of the W.H. Hudson books in the box.

So do keep sending those collections in, even if you must resort to banana boxes. There’s bound to be SOMETHING in there somewhere.

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