A Family in Your Neighborhood

    The vast majority of my donations come from book people. They have personal libraries, or they are weeding from institutional libraries, or they are booksellers weeding the crop. Book people, frequently from book families.

    But I do get the occasional donation from a non-book family. We are not yet so stratified a society that non-book people never have books. They have. And, just like those of us who are book people, they feel the need to make space now and again.

    And I can tell immediately which are their donations. It’s one of those skills I’ve picked up over the years that are utterly useless, except for writing blogs about. Once I have written this blog, that skill will have passed its usefulness, but I will still have it. I know how to set up a coffee percolator, too: I’m replete with such talents, and yet no one has started a telethon to look for a cure.

    Non-Book families, you see, regard their books as tools, or as toys. And their books tend to arrive on the loading dock packed in boxes the way children toss their toys into the toybox at bedtime. Real book people understand that booiks are rectangular treasures meant to be packed in regular rectangular arrangements. They may be a bit irrational about the arrangement of these rectangles, but they would never toss them higgledy piggledy into a cardboard receptacle and then tape a lid over them.

    And, by the way, the toybox analogy is apter than you think. If the non-book family sends children’s books, I get them exactly the way the children put them away at bedtime: mixed in with a doll’s left shoe, Barbie’s right leg, three basketball cards, the cover of a comic book, a math paper, a curling iron, the rocketpack from that Mr. Supersmellysneakers action figure, two broken crayons, a penny, and some jelly beans that were forgotten seven years ago. I can use the penny, friends, but I am reaching an age where I’d best not risk my teeth on those jelly beans. I have also reached an age where that curling iron has no relevance in my life.

    Non-book families also store books and toys and pennies they’re done with in the basement, next to the cat litter or under the plumbing. Cobwebs are often involved, and inhabited, as well. Dogs forget their house-training around the boxes of non-book people, and non-book people never worry if the sewer backs up. “It’s only those old books. Did you find somebody to take them to yet?”

    The books themselves are a little different, too. Non-book people tend not to get their books from bookstores, but from grocery store racks and door-to-door salesmen and little tables that get set up at neighborhood craft fairs. I’m not knocking it: I’m out for variety, as I’ve mentioned before. “The Magic Lottery Number Selection Guide” is a nice change from my twenty-seventh copy of “The DaVinci Code”, and if I actually win the jackpot, I’ll remember the donor in my will. (I’ll say “Hi!”) Book people are more likely to throw away comic books than give them to me; non-book people aren’t so persnickety. (I wish they were persnickety enough to leave the covers on. Although maybe they bought those from the drugstores that sent the covers back to the publisher for a refund and then sold the comic books for a nickel.)

    And I would say that the non-book people are just a bit more likely to bring the books in garbage bags, broken milk crates, and, yes, banana boxes than book people. I feel a little sorry for the books that come from non-book people, but maybe they’ll have better luck the next time around. Once I’ve packed them with the others, you’ll never know whether they came from book or non-book gentry. Unless you smell the cat litter. If you do, just move on and don’t mention it. All those rock-hard jellybeans have gotten on my nerves and if you make a comment about my friends the non-book people, I might attack. And I’m armed, these days.

    I’ll come at you with a curling iron.

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