by Mike Firesmith
A roommate of mine once spent the better part of three months trying to find a book that was out of print. He finally found joy in a bookstore that specialized in hunting down the rare and obscure, and the odd thing was how the final price of the book was rated by the bookstore’s phone bill. Part of the bill for the book was itemized so we could tell who and where the dealer called and I was mesmerized at such a network of bibliophiles. The owner of the store wrote handwritten letters updating my roommate on the progress of the search and with each letter there was an assumption of an upgrade in price, but this was a quest. The damning thing is I can’t remember the title of the book, but I think it was a collection of short stories by one author. I seem to remember a baboon in a hot air balloon.
I once owned thousand of books. The six or seven shelves in my house were all filled with books. I had read most of the fiction and nonfiction yet there were some that were included in boxes of books I had bought, including a yard sale by an animal rescue group that sold me all their books at one time. They had thirty-six boxes of books, trust me, I know exactly how many there were, and they had imposed upon someone to get the books there but were in despair as to what they would do with the unsold books, and how to transport them. The offer of twenty dollars seems low but it was all that I had, and they really didn’t think they would sell much more than that before they stopped for the day. It took an entire day to go through those boxes and it was one of the high points of my life, really, to just look at that many books, and find the real gems. The old books with still good covers, the favorites visited yet again, and the odd misplaced classics, all of this as well as the obligatory Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. The set of encyclopedias from the late 1800’s was a stunning find, really. There were also some mid 1900’s science fiction books hidden among the chaff of romance novels and books on how to make a million dollars selling how to books.
A woman I once knew decided to marry and got boxes to put her books in when she moved in with him. She then decided to give away what she could and out of a few hundred she managed to find a dozen or so that were expendable. She had more boxes of books than she had boxes of other stuff and it was a testament to his love for her that he lugged those things around. He wasn’t a book person. You either are or you have no idea what I am saying here. If you don’t get at least a little judgmental, good or bad, when you look at what’s in someone’s book collection you aren’t one of us.
Books are some of my oldest and closest friends. There for a while they were my only friends. In High School, when I spent the vast majority of my time restricted to my room for bad grades I would read for hours and hours and hours. I wouldn’t waste my time on a book that wasn’t at least a couple of inches thick. A devoured the “Foundation” series by Asimov and then went after “The Lord of the Rings” and haunted the library at school. The mystery was never solved; how can the worst student in school be its best reader? I couldn’t explain “Watership Down” to a senior English class. Yes, it was about rabbits but no it was not a children’s book. The richness and beauty of how the book was written, and the skill of Richard Adams that he put into the writing, transcended the story being about rabbits. It was such a great book, and it still is, Hazel-rah.
Books are real. Books are real in a sense that goes beyond paper and ink. Hitler burned books and if Hitler thought something was bad then you have to see some good in it. The people who seek to limit other people first seek to limit their books. Books are more than just the printed word, and I am here to tell you that in and of itself is enough to inspire reverence, but books are repositories for the thoughts of the human mind for generations. The lonely and damaged mind my body carried in High School found kindred spirits in the back of each book where the names of those who checked out the book were kept, and the dates they had checked the books out. That is gone now, replaced with records that the individual reader cannot see, and I think that sad. I remember names reoccurring in books that I liked, and I wonder after I was gone, if someone carrying a damaged mind saw my name in the back of yet another book, and smiled.
This isn’t the last rant of an aging paper junkie who does see the writing on the screen. Books will change with the times and the days of the hardcover and the paperback are numbered, at the upper left. The modern age of reading is not ending, but rather I believe that it has only just begun. Books were not the apex of an epoch but instead they were the first experiments with fire that will now spread in ways we have only glimpsed. Books, entire volumes of ideas, can be sent in an instant to millions of readers, and this is mighty. Hitler could not stop the book and against such as we have access today I believe the freedom of the press might be more powerful than any one man, except maybe, Mark Zuckerberg.
This is truly a wonderful time to be a writer. I have never had this sort of opportunity to meet the people I have meet through my writing, and theirs. You, yes, you, that was your name, wasn’t it, in the back of that book? I thought I recognized that smile. Ah, but wasn’t “Crime and Punishment” a wonderful, wonderful, book?