Saturday, June 28, 2008

Relative value.

Packing up books. Getting rid of so many I would keep, or at least read first, if I weren't moving--but I keep telling myself that if I haven't read them yet, then I don't need to haul them, and I can get them from the library... but it's strange to see what makes the cut and what doesn't, and why.

I'm getting rid of my copy of Go Tell It On the Mountain even though I know I'll buy another, because I just need my Baldwin around me. I'm sheepish about how that sounds, but it's true; some writers' books you want nearby, maybe just because of what they mean to you, or to reread passages because something reminds you of something...I reference my collected Baldwin essays all the time. Other writers I keep sitting around include Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, George Saunders, Raymond Carver (god of the Syracuse MFA program, with George as high priest--but they're still both great writers), Stuart Dybek, and certain essential books by others: Octavia Butler's Kindred, Dime Store Alchemies by Charles Simic, the Bible, Toni Cade Bambara's Gorilla, My Love, Andersen's and Grimm's Fairy Tales, Beverly Cleary's Dear Mr. Henshaw (though I could have all her books on a shelf, and someday probably will--I still want to live on Klickitat Street!), Lynda Barry's comics. But I bought this copy of Go Tell It On the Mountain used, after loaning the previous one away and never getting it back, and this one is all marked up by somebody else, which I didn't notice before I bought it because they only annotated the last thirty pages. But the last thirty pages is enough!

I'm getting rid of Beloved because if I need to read it for a fourth time, I can get it from the library. It's not one I reference often, though if I do, I could buy another copy. Not like it's going out of print any time soon, and I always see it used. If I taught it, I could get a copy from school. Getting rid of Isaac Bashevis Singer's Shadows on the Hudson because I have tried and tried, and if I decide to try again, I can get it from the library. (That's become a bit of a mantra these days.)

I'm dumping books I picked up free on Miro and Chagall, because I'm not so keen on Miro or Chagall, though I probably would've kept them if they'd been really good and interesting books on either--but they're boring Barnes & Noble editions without terribly good prints. I did pack up a similar edition on Hopper, but that's Hopper, and I'm leaving New York and its museums and--okay, this is contradictory--while I don't think Hopper is very interesting in reproduction, coming off as sort of sentimental, there's something about his paintings in real life that makes me stand there for a long time (so why am I saving the book and leaving New York?). And with my stunning arty taste, I did keep Philippe Halsman's Jump Book. Also too many others: the enormous Giacometti, the enormous Bearden...etcetera. I am going to miss Giacometti's cat and Bearden's The Block and so much art in this town! Sometimes I think that is the hardest part of leaving, is leaving the art. At least it's in the top three (counting my friends as one collective hard thing to leave--heh, though maybe still in the top ten if I were counting people separately).

I really want to keep Advances in New York Health, 1940, with its endpaper line chart of THE CONQUEST OF PESTILENCE IN NEW YORK CITY (cholera spikes in 1832, 1849, and 1854), and photos such as a gentleman staring up at a poster that says PROTECT THEM STAMP OUT SYPHILIS, with the caption "No shadow on this family. At long last posters such as this can be displayed in public. Educational work directed to the control of syphilis and gonorrhea is an important activity of the Department." But I already packed two boxes of similarly useless books, mostly Home Ec and history textbooks, with a few safety handbooks and etiquette manuals included, all late 19th century through mid 20th. Oh, collections. Oh, collectors. Other essential books I return to regularly are Walter Benjamin's Illuminations and--can't remember the name or author of the other, and it's packed away--small green book about books. Anyway, Advances in New York Health is still going into the maybe pile.

So there are those books you keep around because you need them nearby, the books you don't need to own because you can get from the library if you ever need them, the ridiculous collections of books you treasure not for literary purposes, and there are the books you hesitate to cull out because you will never have the chance to look at them again if you ever wanted to. This is much of why I'm keeping the 1867 Dr. Chase's Recipes; or, Information for Everybody: An Invaluable Collection of About Eight Hundred Practical Recipes, for Merchants, Grocers, Saloon-Keepers, Physicians, Druggists, Tanners, Shoe Makers, Harness Makers, Painters, Jewelers, Blacksmiths, Tinners, Gunsmiths, Farriers, Barbers, Bakers, Dyers, Renovaters [says Reuovaters but it looks like someone set the n upside down], Farmers, and Families Generally, To Which Have Been Added A Rational Treatment of Pleurisy, Inflammation of the Lungs and other Inflammatory Diseases, and also for Genral Female Debility and Irregularities: All arranged in their Appropriate Departments, and maybe keeping an "1861 Report of the Commissioner of Patents, Agriculture," annotated by a former owner. That one is very hesitantly in the maybe pile. Maybe. It was a dollar at the Housing Works street sale last fall. Which has nothing to do with its value to me, of course. Also it's missing some pages, perhaps put to sensible use in an outhouse. But I'm still discovering things stuck between the pages, and pasted in. I wish I had it in me to type in "Recognizing His Dog" and "Starving to Death," two gems pasted in over part of an article in the report about sheep breeding (the [a] previous owner appears to have been a corn farmer, or at any rate most interested in the chapter on maize).

And I will haul The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, of her Blessed Spouse, St. Joseph, and Holy Parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne (1878) back to Portland, from whence it came when I bought it for six dollars in 1999 on 82nd at one of those thrift stores, the one with the amazingly well-organized books section. Mary has gone from Portland to Brooklyn to Syracuse to Brooklyn, and now she goes back to Portland. She's not the only one. There's also Dorothy Marino's 1959 picture book Where Are The Mothers? (Linda and Lyle's mother works in an office; Michael's mother is home writing to Grandmother), three issues of the Partisan Review (March and June 1948, Fall 1956), and not one but two dictionaries of film, the Oxford History of World Cinema (1997) and George Sadoul's Dictionary of Films, 1965 (it was a dollar, it's a classic, etc.) I am getting rid of Cinema Nation (collected reviews from the Nation) and a book of critical essays about John Ford's Stagecoach (though I know I don't get any credit for getting rid of books I had to buy for school--that's often painful economically but--I don't even like Stagecoach). Rushdie's essay on the Wizard of Oz, that's another thing. Only getting rid of that if I loan it out and it doesn't come back, though I'll do my damndest to get it back (that's another category of books: the books you own to loan, like how I might keep extra Bibles around if I were Christian).

But. Goodbye The Remains of the Day with the ugly movie cover, I read you and loved you and now you can go to somebody else, though I'd be happy to keep you around, even with your ugly cover, if this wasn't already costing me a gazillion dollars to move the essentials [such a word]. Goodbye Maryse Conde novels that aren't I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, I never got around to reading you though I love ITBWS. The library, Elissa, the library. Goodbye two books about space travel written for young boys in the 1940's--I found them a good home with Sam. That's much of it; who else will appreciate "1861 Report of the Commissioner of Patents, Agriculture"? (And who has time to seek out the right buyer? Not me, not right now.) I'm happy to donate things to Housing Works since most of them came from there. But Housing Works will just put the Commissioner's Report in their street sale again if they don't just throw it away since the cover is mostly falling off. Shit, I'm going to keep it, aren't I? It's BIG too. Heavy.

Oh, the burdens of ownership.

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