Sunday, April 21, 2013

Old friends, cast aside...

One of my life's passions is collecting books.

I love to spend hours, if I have the luxury of such free time, skimming the shelves at murky, dusty secondhand bookstores -- when you can find one. Bookstores have become an endangered species, along with newspapers, common sense, intelligent conversation, great music, good grammar, and most things I cherish. But I digress.

Often I find notes in these tomes, traces of long-ago gifts, affectionate notes to a son, a friend, a mother or a lover. Once, I even found a book that had belonged to a teacher in town.  I thought about putting it in the post, anonymously, with a note that said: "I found my way home."

My respect for books are such that I feel like each and every one of those in my collection are entities. Good friends, acquaintances, ambiguous authors, even enemies. And yet I know that someday, mine, too, will end up in a used book store, or a garage, or -- heaven forbid -- at the bottom of a Dumpster.

Thomas Jefferson, that enigmatic Founding Father, used much of his collection to create one of the nation's greatest libraries. I don't know who would have need of mine. It's eclectic in its way. History, biography and literature dominate, but you can find Dickens next to Kutler's "Watergate" next to Cheever's "Stories" next to a memoir by Roger Moore. Each has a story, both in the literal and figurative sense.

One box is dedicated to CBS radio and TV news anchors and reporters. Another is dedicated to "Dark Shadows." Yet another contains the Folio edition of Gibbon's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Nudged in between are two "Star Trek" novels.

While I was recuperating from surgery, I ordered Richard Kluger's "The Paper," about the birth and death of The New York Herald Tribune. You may know that the International Herald Trib's name is folding later this year into The New York Times umbrella. The Times has owned it for years. I guess it's a logical step. I don't know.

Anyhow, I opened the book to find one of those old-fashioned stickers people used to put on or near title pages to mark their property. It reads: "From the library of Florence Michael."

I can't remember from which online bookstore I bought the book. I assume Florence is dead or perhaps needed to rid her home of clutter. Maybe she needed a couple of bucks. Still, it made me sad. I mused a minute on Florence, who she is/was, what she liked, where she lived, what she made of her life.

When our newspaper moved its offices two months ago, I kicked and cursed as I packed nearly 13 years of memories.

"I'm never buying another book again," I muttered, as I carted a fourth or fifth box of books to my truck. "I'll just download the damn things on my Kindle."

But, of course, I don't mean it. I love the feel of them, love the sight of them on my shelves, and, yes, love the musty smell of an aging edition of a writer's work waiting to be read.

Goodnight, Florence Michael, wherever you are. This book of yours, at least, is in good hands. 


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