essays

Obsession? Books!

book stackOh, the misery of it all! What is it about books, my library, which makes me want to rearrange, organize, dust, rearrange them again by authors. By title, alphabetically. By ISBN numbers. No! By color!

Librarians with white gloves in voluminous, dim, hushed spaces treat their wards as if children born fifty, seventy-five or a hundred years ago but still babies. I smell age, history and hands that have touched theseprecious tomes without the benefit of gloves. I think the thoughts of the owners, handlers, keepers, abusers and thieves of books and the wisdom, energy and passion packed within the pages.

Oh, other things conjure up similar feelings: old cars, certain works of art, abandoned warehouses full of past lives. But nothing in my sixty plus years has ever approached the power of a room full of books: Old, abandoned, neglected, stuffed in boxes in disarray. No matter.

Read? Well yes, of course! When I was young, books meant nothing to me. Iíd rather have been doing anything else than reading. A book is something we propped open doors with. Way too late I discovered powerful authors that got me interested enough to read: Rand, Caldwell, Miller, Bradbury. So I began devouring books and. I took up second residence in used bookstores. I learned things. I saw life differently. I got angry, happy and curious. Lives became real on the pages. But collecting is far more interesting.

The more I collected I came to the realization that others had touched, fondled and loved the old books I bought. I wondered who they might have been, where they were now and why they gave a book up. But what I found more fascinating, more thrilling, were the signatures of the authors, inscriptions of the owners, margin notes, scribbled doodles, small pasted-in pictures and sketches, dates of gifting, little items tucked in the pages: a flower, stationary from forgotten hotels, a bookmark from 1939, notes from loved ones, photos. All miniscule parts of someoneís life trapped and left for me inside. Why, I donít buy an old book anymore unless thereís some thing that speaks to me of past lives. And when I discover a bit of history within? I secrete it further into the pages books on shelfhoping no one has seen me do so. I pay my few dollars without looking the person behind the counter in the eye tucking the forbidden fruit under my arm and gleefully skip out the door, wild eyed, quickly, before they suspect my treasure, down the closest alley to inspect my prize.

You laugh. This is no big deal to you, but when this fortune smiles upon me I have something you donít, you canít have, you never will have. Itís mine; all mine! Whether itís a memo from Lincoln, an unknown photo of JFK or just a note to a child dated sixty-five years ago signed ĎMotherí, I have a piece of history. When I take it home and absorb it all again, I look at it for as many days as I have before my next sojourn to the bookstore.

I think what Iíll do someday is catalog all the little notes, sketches, under-linings and signatures, photos, cards, bookplates and flowers into a book somewhere. Or is that obsessive?

Wayne Mikosz is an ex-restauranteur, writer, residential designer, collaborative painter with the love of his life and a Certified Appraiser of collectible automobiles, trucks and motorcycles. Visit Convergence Studios. Check out his new book, 10 Stories of Life, Love and Death at www.blurb.com/bookstore.

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