31 January 2010


Thomas Jefferson once said “I cannot live without books,” and so proceeded to amass a library of over 10,000 volumes. Unfortunately I decided to emulate him, and over the course of my life largely succeeded. Now I find myself trying to divest myself of some of what I accumulated. I intend to keep the ones that are rare and valuable, or that hold some value for me, but dispose of many of the rest. It is the ones that are not that give me the most grief. I find selling them tedious, but in my mind the notion is fixed that every book has some value. if not I want to dispose of it. In reality this is not the case. Some, indeed many, books are clearly worthless insofar as there is no demand for them.

You see this at book and library sales (which I no longer frequent), where on the last day, remaining books, even if they are totally free, have no takers. They probably wouldn’t even make the $1 bargain shelf at most used book stores. These, unfortunately, are declining in number. I hate big chain stores stocked mainly with best sellers and never go to them, but take pleasure in browsing the one-of-a-kind shelves of used bookstores where you never know what you’ll discover. Years back the Isaac Mendoza book store was located around the corner from my office. It was the oldest book store in New York City, and I enjoyed browsing there, but unfortunately the rent was raised and the store went out of business, as have too many others. These are irreplaceable resources simply because they contain so much that is now scarce and out of print. This is partially offset by things like BookFinder on the Internet, where the inventories of thousands of used booksellers can be checked provided you know what you’re looking for. But it still doesn’t compare to a musty old store with classical music playing in the background.

Is all of this obsolete now due to electronic readers and the new Apple IPad? To me they are useless. I can read a pdf on my laptop so what do I need a dedicated reader for? Obviously there is some market for them, but nothing compares to holding a book in you hand and turning the pages. This is especially true of a classic in a well-made edition, which is about all I read (the only new books I read are nonfiction). I think every literate person should devote time to reading the “great books;” they are “great” for a reason, even though “multiculturalism” has removed many from college curricula, that is all the more reason to compensate for the semi-literate education people receive today.

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