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On Buying More Than One Copy of a Book

Writing last November in the Huffington Post Ann Brenoff published a short essay titled “The 10 Books At Garage Sales You Should Never Pass Up.”  It’s mostly a list of crime titles and thrillers (with John Steinbeck and Gabrial Garcia Marquez mixed in), a list books that in Ms. Brenoff’s esteem are worth reading and are likely finds at a yard sale.  When she praises yard sale browsing she cautions, “we do run the risk of picking up something we read years ago.”  To my way of thinking that risk is actually an opportunity: the chance to find another edition of a book already on the bookcase shelf.

Owning multiple copies of certain books is the definitive act within a personal library—it’s the way to say in book spines, “this matters to me!”  This list is not, like Ms. Brenoff’s list, one that needs to be written down.  A bibliophile knows the books that warrant a second or third purchase, and while there are writers or titles that bookend a reader’s life, it’s a changeable list.  It’s a list to measure change.  It is also a list that has a lot to do with chance.  This is the yard sale part—the recognition that another copy of a book like a pre-1970 paperback of something by Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, North of Boston, anything in hardcover by Jim Harrison is the day for making the library at home more the book oriented owner.  Penguin Illustrated Classics paperback edition of Walden with engravings by Ethelbert White, I’m daydreaming,  the opportunity to purchase that affirmation of the self, analogous to a favorite sandwich at a favorite deli, but permanent, appetite to be remembered by the inner intuitive bibliographer.


In the opening chapter of One for the Books (Viking 2012) Joe Queenan wonderfully explores what it means to own books. In a home where “books are in my line of vision at all hours of the day and night,” grouped “by texture and height,” in sufficient numbers that “the average American visiting our house would find himself with enough reading material to get him through the next three hundred years,” Queenan’s looks to authors who “say things I would have thought of saying, in a way I would have never thought of saying them.” Know the man by what he finds original, and important—Queenan’s final word on owing books is “Or maybe it’s because if I don’t own a book, I don’t care about it.”  What you are content to save as who you are—the function of a personal library as a memoir, itself, is the ultimate argument for buying second or even third copies of a specific title.  In his essay “A Case for Books” (found in Due Considerations) the great John Updike enumerated the reasons for books including, “Books as Ballast.”  Updike’s point was that books on a shelve warm our sensory experience of a room, and the thought of having to move a library of consequence keeps people grounded to the home they are in.  The story of that home lines the walls, want to write an autobiography for all to see?  Own books.  Want to really tell a story in that autobiography, listen to the author/bibliophile telling you to buy that copy of that book already on your shelves and indelibly in your memory.  Therein to share what shaped what you’ve read and why you’ve given to books that part of a life given.




~ by pdoty on February 24, 2016.

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