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Thomas Fleming: Inside the Old Curiosity Shop. Source: Around The Capital with Uncle Hank (1902)
"I wonder what it might have felt like to live in those days …"

The boxes sit everywhere around this town, in front of shops and stores, clearly marked as present for donations to a BookSale. The local chapter of the AAUW (American Association of University Women) sponsors this annual event as its primary fund raiser. For a weekend, they take over a large conference room at the best hotel in town and fill it with donated books, sorted by general topic and kind, and commence to selling them. This event always proves to be well attended. Who wouldn't want to browse through piles of musty books on a February weekend?

The inventory includes all of the usual suspects.
Clive Cussler novels, nearly identical, fill half a long table. The Muse finds Fifty Uses For Quinoa, a volume seemingly created expressly to end up in this collection. A dozen identical copies of a Donald Rumsfeld biography look unread and better for it. I migrate to the gardening books. One can never possess too many of those. I squeeze my way through to biographies and find a 1901 two volume Life and Times of Robert Louis Stevenson which I think might look great gracing our new bookshelves, and a Carl Sandberg's Life of Lincoln, a perfect blustery Sunday afternoon read. The Muse pulls a few sewing books. We leave with two loaded paper grocery bags, each almost too heavy to carry, fifteen bucks each.

For an Author, BookSales feel scary. They dredge up the kind of troubling thoughts prospective parents get during their darker nights of their spirits. Nobody ever intends to father an orphan. Does the world really need another baby? Does this world really want another book? Another future bit of flotsam to wash up into this utterly predictable future? Is all this dance as futile as a Clive Cussler novel on an AAUW book sale table? I know my book will likely be a pebble in an ocean and hardly leave a ripple. Nobody's likely to find a dozen unread copies of it in some future AAUW Book Sale display. Still, the book sale gives me pause to consider. What am I creating here?

I'm just experiencing some heebie jeebies, nothing serious, nothing fatal. What might have started in utter innocence will likely produce ramifications, one of which just might be a presence on some future sale of unwanted possessions. Every damned volume in that sale, even the ones I chose to treasure enough to purchase for fifteen bucks a bagful, had been donated to the sale as an orphan. Its original owner downsized or died and left behind their once perhaps prized possessions. I found a cookbook by a reputable author inscribed and signed for a birthday back in 1980. That celebration's over for ever but the present won't die. I'll resurrect it and use it until I downsize or die. The Author in me wonders sometimes why he even tries.

The Author in me tries for other reasons. He never aspires to appear in some future AAUW BookSale, though it could happen. He wants to make a difference. I can't know what that cookbook with the 1980 birthday inscription meant to either the gifter or its recipient. It might have been treasured and it might well find itself treasured again. Books tend to live multiple lives. The first, crisp and hopeful. Later ones, perhaps, creased and musty. Their contents, too, tend to age oddly. The first Clive Cussler I read held my attention. The second, less so. The third left me feeling like I'd read that book somewhere before because I had. Robert Lewis Stevenson's heritage has varied, and I might not be able to stomach his life and times, but I'll try. I wonder what it might have felt like to live in those days, to become acclaimed and reviled and remembered a century and a quarter after departing, even if the story ends up on an AAUW BookSale table.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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