THE OFFICE – “Out, Truman Capote. You’ve been leaching off the jet set too long, not to mention clogging up my bookshelves.” Capote frowns, then starts to cry. “You silly savage, you break my heart.” I turn to a white-bearded guy, arm wrestling with Shakespeare. “You, too, Hemingway. Everyone is getting bored with your macho shtick.” Hemingway slaps me across the face. “You probably drink white wine, you wussy. A real man only drinks red wine, and fishes with other real men who only drink red wine.” Shakespeare sighs, “Put me on shelf 2-B, or maybe not.” I look at all of them, lined up in rows, stacked on the floor, and there are more where they came from, in boxes in the garage. I have moved to a new office and don’t have the numbers of bookshelves I had in my former digs. It’s time to clean house. But these are my old friends, some have been around for years, and I never got around to reading them. When I get new books, I stack them on my desk in hopes that I will absorb them by osmosis. Others I start but never get around to finishing. I began “Fifty Shades of Grey” but only read 25 of them. I shall keep my copy of “Autobiography of the Unknown Soldier” even though the pages are blank.
You may have this problem, too. You keep getting books – gifts or bought – with the firm intention of reading them, but never do, so they pile up. Occasionally I shall come across some editor or author who said, “I re-read that book and ….” Re-read? How much time does a person have to read a book the second time? Maybe a lighthouse keeper or a shepherd would have hours of down time. Winston Churchill once said that after his death he was going to spend the first millennium just painting. I would spend it just reading. I have read Churchill’s six-volume “History of the English Speaking People,” so I should embark on his six-volume “Second World War,” to find out who won. Actually, maybe I should begin with its prequel, “First World War.”
All of this is not to say that I don’t read books, it’s just that they print them faster than I can read them. Also, my lips get tired. I love books, and for that reason I could never work in a book store. Some customer would come to me asking, “Where can I find ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Dick Cheney’?” I would look up from some tome and say, with annoyance, “Find it yourself, Dude. Can’t you see I’m busy?” Speaking of bookstores, you walk into a Barnes & Noble and see row upon row, aisle after aisle, of books. Each one was selected by a publisher to print. We can only wonder how many never made the cut. (The New York Times reviews about 3 percent of the books it receives.) This brings us to a danger of book writing. The author hands you a pile of papers and says, “I’ve been working on this for years. Tell me what you really think of it.” Don’t. Once a friend was in a hospital and mentioned to a nurse that he had a friend in journalism, me. She gave him her autobiography, “Thirty Years of Emptying Bedpans” or some such title, and told him to send it me to for a review. It was awful, and I gingerly wrote her saying so. She sent back an angry letter ending with, “Something must be wrong!” There was, indeed, something wrong. Her book.
Since my collection of volumes came in many boxes, they were all jumbled up as to subject. In my old office I had them generally sorted according to subject: World history, Texanna, fiction, mysteries, Guttenberg Bibles and coloring. Now, mixed in with them, are my wife’s cookbooks: “Oak Leaf Porridge,” “Kale Made Edible” and “Aggie Armadillo – Possum on the Half Shell.” Sorting them out and putting them in the correct stacks brings another problem. I inherited a beautiful stack of old bookshelves from my wife’s grandfather, but they were apparently built by Amish in the 16th century when books were small. The shelf spaces are about 6 inches high. Today’s books are generally about 18-inches high. So many of my books have to lie on their sides. This makes it hard to read the titles unless I lie down.
Back to weeding out my collection, including “Weeding Out Books Made Fun.” “OK, Mickey Spillane, time to leave.” He takes out a deck of Luckies as the rain falls on the dirty windows and the hotel neon sign across the street blinks its garish red. Then the door opens and she walks in. Somehow I received a few bodice rippers. “Out,” I say. “Time to go, ‘Lust on the Linoleum.’” Heather looks at Lance, her well-endowed chest heaving with desire. She purrs: “Don’t say anything, just hold me.” Lance grabs his claymore just as Capt. Drano leaps across the mizzenmast, shouting: “That pretty bit of fluff is mine, orphaned and abandoned Third Duke of Ellington who is the rightful heir to Castle Pawn.” I don’t even have a mizzenmast. It must be mizzen. Who’s next? “History of Hangnails — The Early Years.” Where did that come from? Do you ever go through your library and discover books you never knew you had, nor want to? Here’s another: “My Life Adrift, the Story of the Unsinkable III.” And: “An Objective History of the Civil War From the Southern Point of View.” Some of these are coffee table books – large volumes of colorful photographs which no one will ever read. “Big Pictures of Things,” “Lots of Photographs of Cute Kittens” and, of course, “Books You Really Don’t Need — Confessions of a Coffee Table Bookseller.”
Well, I am getting nowhere fast. Would you like some books, and find my mizzenmast?
Ashby is booked at firstname.lastname@example.org