Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Challenges of Moving Books

My wife and I recently moved from a big old house into a smaller old house a few blocks away. There were the usual 100 or so boxes of books. Putting the books in boxes is a time-consuming affair. Each book must be read and reread, paged through, smelled, hefted several times in each hand, dusted, shown to the spouse who rolls her eyes, inspected for unremembered turns of phrase. Moving is exhausting work.

The first editions and signed first works by well known authors are not what piques the interest. It is such gems as:

New York Yesterday and Today, published in 1977. The yesterday of the title refers to the period from the late 1800s through about 1945. The today photos are from 1975 and 1976. All sorts of memories are triggered by these. Here's the place I used to buy a cup of coffee before getting on the downtown N train. Everything looking ancient; nobody is looking at a hand held device. In the 1970s, people standing on street corners, walking, driving, shopping, had their heads up, looking where they were going. I sell books by emailing Excel spreadsheets to my customers. I sometimes review orders on my phone as I am jay walking through heavy traffic, absent minded, autopilot kicking in as I dodge cars driven by people who are texting. I write a blog. But I am having a Luddite moment.

A very dusty copy of the Conrad Argosy, a collection of Joseph Conrad's work published on pulpy paper, getting brittle and yellowing now. It must be from the 1930s. I know I looked once, but now forgot, being too busy checking to see if there is anything in it I have not yet read. There is. This book was given to me by my father, after he discovered I was a Conrad reader. He bought it in the 1930s. I wish I remember if he bought it used or new. Maybe he never told me.

My son, who was helping to pack, found some things he had not read or read long enough ago to deserve a reread. He proceeded to reread them. 

Back when I painted I was obsessed with the form of the arch as used in Medieval, Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance Architecture (that should be a title. I look it up. No... somebody needs to write it), so I collected books with images of these and more. They all got a good looking at before being boxed.

As I unpack them the process is repeated.

Some of the fiction I pull out and shelve in the new old house was given to me or recommended by buyers shopping the warehouse. One recent example, which I am reading now, is  Rules For Old Men Waiting, by Peter Pouncey. It is a beautifully written novel and I would not have known anything about it if my friend had not seen it at the warehouse and handed me a copy, telling me I had to read it.

Much of this blog is about trying to sell buyers and bookstore owners on the idea of buying remainders and bargain books, and much is about the quality of physical books as opposed to ebooks. I've written here about how even the presence of books triggers memory and emotional response in ways the digital versions can't touch. I think these are basic human needs and characteristics that will not go away. Petroleum replaced whale oil and cars replaced horses in a veritable flash, but no matter how much big money likes digital media, there are always going to be physical books and a significant percentage of readers remaining loyal to them.

If you are an author, and I see that an oddly high number of my readers are authors of ebooks, please consider publishing your digital books as real books when you can. In a few thousand years they might still be here, affecting how people feel and remember their lives. Well, at least I'll have a chance to read them as I pack and unpack next time I move.
Links to articles about how real books help our minds and lives and how bookstores are doing just fine:

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