Pipe Dreams of the Bookladen Orphanage

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An energetic, robust customer bounds through the door of Reed Books. He is lugging a large box filled to the brim with pipes. “Here are some more things from the house,” he pronounces. Then, he hands the load over to me and rushes out the door while I search for a place to situate the box.

“Here’s the last of our stuff,” he announces, as he returns and unloads two large plastic containers of old books. He needs to retrieve the containers in order to haul future troves.

It’s like Christmas every day at the shop. Folks bring large trash bags of paperbacks, rickety wooden boxes filled with attic leftovers, linen-wrapped fragiles from another century, suitcases of old documents and memorabilia, purses packed with formerly-loved treasures, books upon books.

It’s a mistake to dismiss even the worst-looking arrival without first peering within, combing for the kinds of saleable, collectible items that keep the store running. There’s almost always something unique hidden among the gewgaws and doodads and thingamajigs and artifacts and disposables that are presented to me. Even the worst-looking or worthless-seeming items have stories to tell. I feel like a fortune teller or seer, as I explain the source or meaning of each societal leftover.

So, why do I accept today’s gift of a large box filled with smoking pipes? After all, this is a bookstore. Why pipes?

Well, at one time in this bookie world, pipes and tobacco and humidors and clippers and scrapers and cleaners and flexible stems and ashtrays and cigar boxes and humidifiers and smoking jackets were part of the setting in which books were read, collected, enjoyed, catalogued, referenced, displayed, meditated upon.

Today, lots of other accumulatables decorate rooms where books are cherished, replacing the now politically-incorrect smoking paraphernalia. Books are not read in a vacuum; they are enjoyed while the reader surrounds them with a favorite reading chair, a blankie, a snack, a cherished pet, photographs of family and friends, a cuppa java, a music reproduction device lurking nearby or stuck into ear.

The surroundings are part of the literary experience—unless you tend to read while suspended in darkest, starless space.

As I walk the aisles of century-laden books, my memory of each title encompasses everything that was going on while I was reading…when I touch a copy of ANTIC HAY by Aldous Huxley, I can almost smell the unmown grass surrounding me on the lawn of my childhood home as I once lay a-blanket, reading in the shade. I can feel my too-tight tennis shoes making editorial comments about the characters in the book whose shoes always fit correctly, I can sense the impending visit from a neighborhood playmate, I can conscript a bit of clover to use as bookmark, I can see the gaunt face of Huxley on the back cover, I can retrieve this visceral memory years later when I actually meet him at a lecture.

Each book in the big world has equal status in my tiny world. Each is conceived, edited, submitted, argued over, politicked, rewritten, slicked up, dumbed down, smartened up, designed, proofed, printed, even re-printed. Each book is purchased or shop-lifted, partially read or not read at all, re-gifted, torn apart for an art project, ignored in a corner for ages, chewed by the dog, passed on to another reader, thrift-stored or ebayed or donated, treasured in the family archives, burned at the stake.

Each book in the shop is my little orphan, awaiting adoption, nose pressed to the show window, hoping for a kindly reader to take it home where awaits an easy chair, a bookcase, a coffee table, a bit of reading light, nurturing, understanding, tolerance, respect.

Nearby, out of reverence for readers of the past, rest pipe rack, ashtray, wooden matches, and the old familiar fragrance of tobaccos past and pulp papers survived and, just out of camera range, the next reader, rubbing hands together gleefully in anticipation of the joys and sorrows and provocative ideas hiding between covers that shield the pages till just the right moment

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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Exterminating those pesky Martians

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“…across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those beasts that perish, intellects vast and cold and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”

–H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds, 1898

The child I once was and now remain, always plunges into each encountered book as if it is an entirely new world in which to live out an alternate life. Can’t help it. It’s the way I popped into existence and the way I now exist.

Reading the above H.G. Wells passage was scary when first experienced many decades ago and is equally ominous now. The metaphor is clear: Not everybody likes everybody. Many earthlings find reasons to hate and disdain and conquer other everybodies, and many lack the empathy to feel the pain of others. Thus it was with the Martians. There was no “war of the worlds” in Wells’ novel—the title was a trick to get you to read it. The Martians did not come to earth to make war, they came to exterminate, much as a commercial exterminator comes to obliterate cockroaches in order to make a building habitable. Ol’ H.G. was trying to shock us into looking beyond ourselves in order to protect the honorable traits we do have. He was saying, even if you stop warring with each other, you must still band together to repel all the other endangerments to life that are out there—pestilences, meteors, earthquakes, tsunamis, Martians, warming, solar flares, major storms…the list does go on.   

Wars, be they political or virtual or actual, are mere distractions when it comes to pondering the future of humankind and animalkind. We have so much to do. Perhaps it will take a few more centuries to abolish war. Perhaps those then surviving will have the good sense to realize that the true obstacles to life on earth are bigger and more powerful than any standing or sitting army, any nuclear arsenal.

So, maybe the next book I fall into will be about a future when we’re all done with squabbling and are ready to tackle the really important issue of surviving all that Nature can dole out.

After all warring is spent, there will still be Martians and meteors to deal with. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could band together, forget boundaries and barriers, and start thinking about humanity itself?

Oh, well, it was just an idea

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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F.W. Woolworth socks it to me

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I don a fresh pair of socks each and every morning of my life, always wondering when I’m going to run out of the really good ones.

That’s right—I go through fourteen clean socks a week. I’m an Activities of Daily Living guy who uses routine and ritual to contain my excited and artistic impulses. If I didn’t subscribe to certain repeatable and comfortable exercises, I just might wander off absent-mindedly while imagining my next story, my next speech or performance, my flights of fantasy that allow me to compose and edit and manage the Muse who tracks me, my acquisition of rare and unusual reading material for longing customers.

So, wearing clean socks is part of the act.

This particular morning, I find two holes in the right sock and, since no-one in America has darned a sock since 1959, I reluctantly toss it into the trash. The abandoned sock is one of the last really good ones I’ll apparently ever own. Can’t find soft, durable and comfortable ones anymore.

I’m about to run out of the last F.W. Woolworth socks in the known universe.

A sock is not just a sock, you  understand. These socks were purchased at one of the final real variety department stores, purchased decades ago when stores still had clerks who knew where things were, and who gladly assisted you in finding them, making sure they were right for you and checking to see whether you had an enjoyable experience in the process.

Wonder when the last real store clerk disappeared from view? Looking around, it’s hard to see any evidence that they ever existed except in the minds of geezers of a certain age.

For instance, at the library, librarians sit staring at computers and don’t voluntarily look up. You have to stand over them and clear your throat loudly to get them to tear their gaze from the screen. Even then, they only know how to vaguely point directions without removing seat of pants from seat of chair.

The branch bank on the corner seems equally bereft of eye contact. Employees sit and stare at screens or bow their heads in religious adoration of hand-held devices. They not only find it hard to look at me, but there is impatience in body language and demeanor. Just let me get back to the real virtual world! they seem to be saying. They don’t seem glad to see me.

It’s hard not to feel guilty, interrupting these clerks who have learned to respond warmly to electronic messages and images. What an annoyance we real people are!

Anyhow, I miss the days of one-on-one real-time real-presence social exchanges. I’m adjusting to the lonely world of sock-hunting on my own.

There’s proof in the message—if I tried to tell you this sad tale in person, you’d be fidgeting and creeping toward the door, longing to get back to texting or youtubing or facebooking snarky comments about other people’s lives. But the fact that you read this story online simply means that I’m already on your side, despite my whining. We are virtual people communicating virtual information in a virtual world.

Wonder what the real world is like? Maybe we’d better look up once in a while, just to get our bearings.

Now that the F.W. Woolworth socks are depleted, I wonder what virtual socks will feel like

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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The Disembodied Book Re-animator Strikes Again

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The corpus delectable lies before me this morning, waiting for my re-animation skills to kick in.

It’s a book.

It is splayed open to the title page, begging me to bring it back to life. It is missing its hard covers, the tattered spine needs stabilizing, a few spots of age decorate its interior…but the words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs and chapters are all intact and awaiting the touch of a reader or a collector or a hoarder.

There are many ways to resuscitate a book.

I can read it, thus infusing it with renewed vigor, donate my interpretation of the printed words to its 95-year-old collection of memories, turn its pages and admire the four centuries of trial-and-error printing craftsmanship that brought this object to this moment in time, marvel at the reproduction of the Edgar Allan Poe portrait facing the title page, ponder the life and times of publisher Charles C. Bigelow and Company, study the copyright year 1918 and determine what else of significance was happening in the world right about then, think on the near-century this book lay dormant and ignored in an attic of detritus, trace the route it took to arise from storage and wend its way into my hands this very moment.

I can also read its contents and marvel at the words that cause the imagination to become excited and nimble.

I can pick one story at random from this book, “The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade,” and then imagine what the thousand-and-third tale might be, fantasize whether Scheherazade had another unpublished thousand-and-one tales within her, admit the fact that I, too, might have as many stories to tell if only I’d get on with telling them.

Upon further examination, I notice that the Scheherazade story has never been read by the owners of this book—the pages are still uncut, meaning that the avid reader of the day would purchase a book, take letter-opener in hand, and carefully slit the closed pages open so that the contents could be properly read.

This means that I could be the first person to read this story within the pages of this book. I will become the explorer, the adventurer, the first-ever enjoyer of these pages. Cheap thrills, but thrills, nonetheless!

What happens next to this tome? I might take it home and read it in lone silence. I might have it rebound and reinforced for its next 95-year journey, I might share it with another booklover, I might shelve it as is and hope that those who someday scrounge around the remains of my estate will do something more meaningful than send it to the dumpster.

For now, it is a foundling and must be protected from society’s thrower-awayers, society’s censors, society’s bookburners, society’s illiterates, society’s unappreciaters of the Past, society’s disapprovers.

How many booklives have I saved in a long lifetime? How many will I rescue from bookhell, how many more orphans will you and I conceal from the enemies of books?

The disembodied book re-animators of the would could be Us.

Or, if you don’t want to embrace the task, perhaps I’ll have to do it all by myself. But just think of the fun you’ll miss

 (c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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Ray Bradbury, the best of all possible authors 1920-2012 A.D.

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hand away.”

–Ray Bradbury 1920-2012 A.D.

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