I am getting ready to move, and all is in flux. It could be said my entire life has been in flux since I was a youngin, but I really mean it now.
I had started writing a book, and then found I needed to re-evaluate my approach. I altered my outline, but now the project is tabled until I get settled in my new town. lately, I’ve been boxing and tossing the flotsam that’s somehow ended up in my apartment during the past 11 months.
Now, I must admit I have a chronic habit with used book stores, and I feel compelled to spend my last dollar supporting the efforts of a class of True Heroes in American culture, used bookstore proprietors. Thus, as I try to move, and am packing up my belongings, it should not be surprising that I have a severe lack of furniture, and a plethora of additional books.
Packing my books in boxes is an agony. For every title, I ask myself, will I want to read this in the next month? Will I want to access some nugget of information only to found in this very book? Will I be desperately afloat, alone, without a liferaft, if I don’t have access to this gem of a book? Ultimately, I have to “man up” and put it in the box for storage. I just don’t have enough room in my van to keep all I want available. It is an obsession, and I probably need therapy. But since I hurt no one else, and I am a fairly functioning member of society, I will continue to forego that route, and collect my treasures.
The problem with moving to a new town and having an incredible library is that boxes of books are the heaviest of all household items. As I put Economics in one box, and American history in another, I have to fill up the box only so much, or I won’t be able to carry it. That means having some Economics books in another box that is only half full, so I have to put some other subject in there as well. In my obsession, those other books must be at least somewhat related in topic, or else I will be obliged to title the entire box Miscellaneous. But too many Miscellaneous boxes means they could be organized better, and so on and so on.
Clearly, I do have a problem. But it will no longer be a problem when I eventually settle down into my own space and create a library unparalled in my social circle (if I have one)! I will then be surrounded with the entire recorded history of the world about me: science when I need it, history when I want it, art when I desire it. The sensuality of it all brings me to breathless orgasm just thinking about it.
Used bookstore owners don’t make big bucks. They do what they do for the love of books and each used bookstore reflects that love in a personal way. Some shops are chaotic piles of books spilling into the aisles. When no more room on the shelves exists, books are heaped on the floor in piles that occasionally tumble over and ask for even the customer’s attention. The proprietor will often be an elderly gentleman hunched at the register amidst his own pile of literacy, as well as lunch.
Other stores are carefully organized with all books shelved neatly in their own sections. As there is no one way to organize these sections, some shop owners will seperate hardbacks and paperbacks, while others will put them both together by subject. Some shop owners will put biography in a seperate section, while others will put a biography in the History section for its appropriate timeline. Sometimes martial arts is in the sports section, while other shops will place it in the religion section under Buddhism.
Going into a used bookstore and unlocking the code to it’s design is one of the most enjoyable activities that I’ve ever experienced. I could spend an entire afternoon in a decent book shop inspecting every single shelf, and sweeping my eyes over every single spine I see. It is not by chance that most of my friends, and virtually all the men in my life, have been of similar ilk. A fun date for me is a visit to a local bookshop and then food. Any friends who would be mpatient while I visually caress each adventure that rests on a used book store shelf would not be long in my life. For years, my best girlfriend was one with whom I could vacation with, and we would both read while we ate at the restaurants. Some people would find that rude, but we both appreciated that time, and considered it spent “together”, and not at all ignoring each other.
The Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon has a wonderful selection of used book stores. In the small town of Ashland alone, there are three used bookstores and one new bookstore. There are two used bookshops 5 miles down the road in Talent. And in Medford, I’ve been to three excellent used bookshops. And that is not even counting the thrift stores which also have quite an excellent selection.
When I was in a bookshop the other day, looking at their language section for a Chinese dictionary, a woman turned to me and asked, “Have you shopped here before?” “Yes”, I replied. Then she asked, “Can you tell me how you know what the price of the book is?” I explained to her that in used bookstores, the price is usually written in pencil in the upper right-hand corner of one the first pages in the book. “Oh!”, she exclaimed, surprised and happy.
Clearly, there are many people in our society that have lived decades without purchasing a single used book. What a tragedy. And this is probably why independent bookshops are disappearing all over the country. We know McLuhan observed “Literacy is on the slide” and that is reflected directly in the used bookstore business.
I have often dreamed of having my own bookstore, but that would mean parting with my best friends. Years of Zen study (that is, reading about Zen in books!) has not diminished my materialistic tendencies in this respect. I must admit, I am a hoarder. But somebody’s got to do it.
I urge everyone to seek out these oasis’ of culture, these sanctuaries of independent thought, and use your federal reserve notes to help preserve the proud spirit of liberty that exists there. Strengthening the used bookstore business is one way everybody can participate in a political action that is not confined to any particular affiliation, be it liberal or conservative. Supporting used bookshops is a general support of democracy precisely because you are supporting independent thought, as well as local business, and keeping desperately needed wealth in the neighborhood.
So, where are the independent bookshops in your neighborhood? Have you been in them lately? Then spend an afternoon browsing the aisles and soak up some of histories finest ideas. And spend a few dollars on something that will not only inspire you, but inspire that proprietor of the shop, that brave and lonely soul who gives all for the love of books, to live another day.