Over the years, I’ve accumulated a large and varied collection of books. Browsing in bookstores (back when there were bookstores), picking up odd items at used book sales, review copies of music books sent to me while I was at Keyboard — somehow books seem to gravitate to me.
Next month I’m moving, so this month the books have to go into boxes. This job can’t be delegated to the movers, because movers don’t know how to pack books. It can take 20 minutes to pack one box. You have to think about what’s going to fit, how the spines line up, whether the top is level and solid so the boxes can be stacked.
But that’s not the fun part. The fun part is leafing through random ancient and possibly yellowing volumes in muted amazement. I have, for instance, several of the very first Doonesbury paperbacks, from the early 1970s. The more tattered items in my collection of Perry Mason mysteries date back even further, to the 1950s. I have books of essays by Montaigne and George Orwell, two shelves full of Roman history, several fat coffee table books of Picasso reproductions, textbooks on trigonometry and calculus, some fascinating volumes on archaeology and human evolution, assorted self-help books, science fiction and fantasy by Poul Anderson, Terry Pratchett, and Philip K. Dick, and poetry by Corso, Whitman, and Ferlinghetti. I have Tristram Shandy, Don Quixote, Vanity Fair, Madame Bovary, and a good English translation of the Decameron of Boccaccio.
Most of these books I’ll never read again, if I ever read them in the first place — but the question isn’t, “Why keep it all?” A better question is, “How could I possibly get rid of any of it?”
As I contemplate the rot that afflicts American culture, more than anything I wish I could share some of these wonderful books with a few young people. Open their eyes. Say, “Look! Look! These fabulous riches are your culture, your heritage!”
It’s not about the iPad and the Wii. It just isn’t.