Books are burning

June 26, 2008


As my summer is beginning, I stepped over to my bookcase and thought it a good idea to pick out something I already had. I drifted over to the Hermann Hesse section. There was Rosshalde, Steppenwolf, Glass Bead Game, Demian, and I chose Peter Camenzind, his first novel.

I loved Hesse in high-school: would I like it now? Hmm, I read Siddartha 2 years back and loved it. Let’s try again.

I started reading the book, er, the paperback book. Hmmm, let’s see, it says I bought it in March 1971, and it was printed in 1969. So this book, er paperback book, is almost 40 years old.

You may have heard that our libraries are burning. No, not in flames. The books that have a high acid (or any) content are slowly burning, or drying severely and will eventually crumble into dust. The pages of my Hesse book are turning yellow and becoming brittle. I looked at the cover: $1.95. I’ve read a quarter of the book. I am not liking the smell; I am feeling guilty about considering throwing the book away and buying a new copy (and translation).

We hold onto our books as little trophies: I READ THIS it says to the person who skims the bookshelf. THIS IS WHO I AM it implies.

This book, Peter Camenzind, has served its purpose. Throw it away Roger. Buy a new one. Stimulate the economy, even if it’s only 8.95 plus tax. Life is too short to spend long hours with stinky books.

Long live acid free books, and the E-books of the future.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad Wood June 27, 2008 at 10:18 am

There are pb copies for a penny, 4 bucks once S/H is added. Or you could splurge on a hardcover, maybe several dollars including S/H for non-ex-library Very Good condition: check out bookfinder [dot] com*, which searches almost all the other bookseller sites—I’ve come to find them indispensable.

* Take THAT spamfilter!

PK June 28, 2008 at 9:14 am

Oh my, OUCH, what a subject. I have been trying to deny the slightly moldy, burning smell that greets me when I enter my home. The walls, lined with books going back to the sixties, representing the formation of my mental self. How could I replace them with newer editions when their very look is all I need to remember sweet moments? As an avid, life long fiction reader (and TV eschewer) since my return to the academy a few years ago, I have had to leave fiction aside. At my dining table, while wolfing a meal alone (must get back to work), I scan the shelves thinking, “I must finish this gosh darn degree so I can someday read a good book again”.

A bookish woman, who once visited my collection, had a warm reaction to recognizing many of the editions. Perhaps the cover graphics, size, typeface etc. become connected to the experience of the reading.

I have found it educational how my opinion of a book may completely change after thirty years, reminding me that all is vanity.

God usually deals with collectors, such as myself, by setting mice, fire, floods and other scourges to rid one of beloved baggage. Your post reminds me I must commit to a plan of deaccessioning, for I don’t want to grow old dragging these smoldering totems from place to place.

Brad Wood June 28, 2008 at 10:13 am

Smoldering totems indeed PK!

I still have a number of budget softcovers from the days of my youth and they do indeed evoke nostalgia. For a while I was proudly using my junior-high print shop rubber stamp here and there within, complete with home address, for wholly unneeded security. I have a few volumes given me by my best friend of those days, Doug Dutton, who wrote amusing inscriptions that sometimes included the business hours of the now-defunct North Hollywood family bookstore.

To slow deterioration of acidic paperbacks, it helps to put them in airtight polyethylene bags or the like. For things that are really valuable, there are treatments possible to neutralize the acids, but I believe they are expensive and uncertain.

And among scourges, let us not forget our little friends the silverfish, worms, and cockroaches. The last do not usually so much eat portions, but nest and excrete their brownish waste on the edges of the pages. Boric acid works well for these pests, laid down in trails that they must trek through. These have to be renewed periodically as they get to agglomerate and no longer stick to the little manders as they must, so that they get back to the nest and poison the lot of them.

PK June 28, 2008 at 7:50 pm

AHHHHHHHH!!! Brad, entropy, entropy everywhere. Somehow I think of that poem, “All My Pretty Ones”. There is a time when one must say good-bye to all that stuff, put them in boxes and throw them out. I think about that more and more as I realize the meaning of certain things (inscriptions by my young father, circa 1930s etc.) mean, essentially, nothing to anyone on this side of the pale. Myself, they are stamped in my mind’s eye, like my favorite records, instantly available at anytime, in better fidelity then the original (ain’t the mind sumpthin’?).

Roger, you seem a man of action, and your house is lovely with a reasonable orderlyness. Please tell when and how you deal with this, it might give me hope and inspiration. But having a dissertation to write, no other projects will exist until that is finished and I have taken a luxurious victory lap. Then I might really be in the mood for a good life sweeping.

Brad Wood June 28, 2008 at 10:00 pm

…und nicht eine Trope zu trinken…

I have a full 10 x 30 storage space valiantly arguing against the Good-bye to All That (a book I knew of thanks again to the Duttons) attitude.

But it has its proponents.

PK June 29, 2008 at 10:58 am

“I have a full 10 x 30 storage space… “: some are sicker then others 🙂 Oh no! I have not read it (Good-bye to All That), and I had almost ordered it when I realized just what a “bookaholic” act I was practising (having enjoyed Ford, Remarque and Céline). As I live a mile or two down San Vicente from the late store, I have long associated Dutton and books, it seems you were too aquainted with that pusher of paper.

I do miss the act of wandering book stores, looking for something new, not unlike or disconnected from looking for a mate. I have joined the online book buying crowd, I am ashamed to allow.

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