What Are Patterns For?

The Book Fair is, in its own way, one of the waystations between Control and Chaos, Order and Disorder. Book collections which once occupied orderly rows on shelves are now tumbled into boxes; piles of books which once made it impossible for some people to do anything but jump into bed over their planned bedtime reading, are now neatly stacked in boxes. These boxes pile up in walls which some people find unsightly And uncontrolled, but the books within them are eventually sorted, priced, and made ready to be organized at the Book fair so you can take them home and put them into tidy rows once again.

And, little though I like to remind you, one day those tidy rows will be disrupted, books will be tumbled into boxes, and it will begin again. The pattern is broken for a while, and the pieces reassemble into new patterns. And so it will continue so long as people and books share space.

If I am unusually philosophical today (and I assure you, this is as tedious to me as to anyone else) it is because I am examining the ways people mark their books. We just got in books from another one of those collections of around 1910, where the owner not only marked his name in the books but also the shelf position of each one (Shelf 5, Book 6.) An orderly soul. We also have books from a masterful lady whose bookplate reads “This Book Belongs to Jane Doe—And She Wants It Back!” These were people passionate about THEIR books, who may never have considered that the patterns they set up were not permanent. Both of these came from estates, though; in the first case, the patterns were broken long ago; in the second, only very recently. THEIR books will now be someone else’s to read and arrange.

And some of the marks in other books are telling me that for the sixth time, as best as I can figure it, I am sorting through things that were donated from the estate of someone I knew pretty well. In fact, I’m finding books I sold her in the first place: here’s one she was overjoyed to get, and here’s one I had to fight hard to convince her she’d want to read. I wonder if she ever did.

Melancholy, perhaps, but there’s another side to it. Someone I liked really loved this book and now I get the job of finding someone else who will love it, so that to some degree, that little bit of my friend and her patterns will survive. The chances are decent that if this new person is enough like the one who has passed, several books from the previous collection will wind up together in the second. And because, barring catastrophe, most books are capable of surviving many human lifetimes, they may go on to a third owner, and a fourth, in patterns like or unlike the original. And some part of the joy my friend found in the book will be transferred, not particularly by vibrations in the ether, but because a book can carry the same message to similar minds. I will have played my part in passing along that bit of my friend’s life to friends I will never meet.

Enough of this. I must get back to the banana boxes. And WOULD you please put it in your will that when your books come to me, they not be TUMBLED into the boxes? It doesn’t take more than a minute longer to pile them neatly, and it’s better for the books.

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