Friday, September 07, 2007


Odd volumes and explained absences

We've started shopping at the supermarket nearest our new house. Of course while I'm checking out the groceries, Ryan is checking out the dollar used book bin placed, I think courtesy of United Way, at the front of each store in this particular chain. And he comes up to me with a dear old book, Boswell's Life of Johnson, edited by George Birkbeck Hill (Oxford 1887), olive green cloth, gilt lettering on the spine, large paper edition. Only problem: it's volume six only, of a six-volume set. Where are the other five? Will I be scrounging in this dollar bin for the rest of eternity, hoping against hope that they will show up, one by one? Yes, yes I will. I did this with my huge Scribner set of the works of Robert Louis Stevenson - I found most of a broken set at a library sale years ago and couldn't pass it up, then at the same sale the following year I found two more volumes in the set. The spines were faintly discolored in a uniform way, so it was obvious they matched my set. Now, and most likely forever, I'm only missing one volume. And this library discontinued their annual sale a few years ago.

Anyway, back to Boswell - I resisted bringing this book home, poor volume six, because I knew it was going to be a real problem, and I've just spent several evenings struggling with what to do with other problems such as this, boxes and boxes of them - books that I've taken home for purely sentimental reasons. But under the bright lights of the supermarket, looking at that lovely old Oxford book, I flipped it open and saw two things: first, that this volume contained only "addenda, index, dicta philosophi, &c." so technically it was readable on its own (the dicta philosophi is "a concordance of Johnson's sayings" and is just too good for words); second, the book has a large fold-out frontis - "A Chart of Dr. Johnson's Contemporaries, drawn up by Margaret & Lucy Hill, On the model of a Chart in Mr. Ruskin's 'Ariadne Florentina.'" Well. The book came home with us. You see how my mind justifies these things.

The pages are uncut, did I mention that? So I'm cutting them, reading the dicta philosophi this morning. Here are a few apt samples, to sum up the week (I'll leave out the source citations, for brevity):

Antiquarian: 'A mere antiquarian is a rugged thing.'

Concentrates: 'Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully.'

Housewifery: 'The fury of housewifery will soon subside.'

Lexicographer: 'These were the dreams of a poet doomed at last to wake a lexicographer.'

Philosopher: 'I have tried in my time to be a philosopher; but I don't know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in.'

Rained: 'If it rained knowledge I'd hold out my hand.'

Verse: 'Verse sweetens toil.'

That's it from Johnson, for now. I'm wrapping things up at the shop today, because I'm about to go off to paint for a week. Another island retreat. I'll be sans computer, by choice, and I'll return after the 15th. I can't wait to get back to painting, but I just found out I'll be missing Ron Padgett's poetry reading up the road at the University of Maine on Wednesday next week, rats and double rats! His recent memoir of Joe Brainard was simply terrific, Joe (Coffee House Press 2004) and now he's got a new book of poems, How to Be Perfect (Coffee House Press 2007). I'm very sorry to miss him, but not so sorry that I'm going to come back to the mainland for the reading.

When I return I'll be posting pictures of books with decorative cloth covers - in my move I found a carton full of them. Books I kept only for their covers, and very lovely they are, too. Thanks for sticking with me, dear readers, through my frequent absences of late. I'll be settling in soon for the coming winter. Just gotta get a bit more actual living in first.

Enjoy your trip, and congrats on the move! I've bought a few books solely for the cover in my life, most notably an old Hergesheimer novel that's beautiful. I'll be interested to see your selection.

Your new book room looks stupendous. I recently moved and I sent nearly all my books to storage. It was painful.
Thanks ui - I'm finally back. Just put up the first of the decorative cloth covers. One of the earlier ones I'll be posting - the others are all circa 1900.

Now, I do hope you're storing your books in a warm, dry place. None of this sketchy unheated storage-unit stuff allowed for our good book collections. And no damp basement, either. This is your conscience speaking.

Of course I assume this state of affairs is only temporary?
The books are in a decently temperate basement. Out of the direct sun, and minimally musty. Unfortunately, it was the best option. The few books that came with me will likely go through numerous moves overseas and back or into another storage facility until they are reunited w/ their brethren. Any advice on keeping books in storage for longer periods of time?
Keep your books flat in cardboard boxes up on something that has airflow underneath it - a few wooden pallets, say. Those are usually easy to find for free. Then if there's a water problem in the basement, your books have a better chance of survival. And the airflow will help the books stay fresh. You could also put packets of dessicant in the boxes. Basements, not so good. Attics are better, I think - even if they are unheated, at least they are usually very dry. I've evaluated books in a of a lot of basements and attics, and the ones in attics are usually salvageable.

Long-term, hmmm. I'd almost recommend making a list of what you have, then keeping the list and selling the actual books themselves. Then they will have lives of their own, instead of just being in storage. You will have your list, and you can reassemble a new collection in the future. I say this knowing how difficult it is to part with one's books, so I offer my sympathies...

Another thought - I suppose open bookshelves in a heated storage unit could be good (but expensive). With open boxes of kitty litter around to absorb humidity from the air. Or a dehumidifier, checked on periodically by a trustworthy friend. Who, need I say it, should be magnificently rewarded for such a task.
The books are on bookshelves, with the lowest shelf 8" off the floor in a finished basement. I did consider boxing them up but I think they would have been a further inconvenience in that way to the friend who volunteered to hold them. I do have a list of the books ( and many of them are already in brodarts. Hopefully they'll make it some time. I did consider selling them, but couldn't do it. And this way, if I ever want one, I think I can get it shipped to me.
That's a good friend. Send back exotic and wonderful gifts from your travels.

I wonder if your reading and collecting tastes will have changed so much by the time you're reunited with your books that you won't want to keep them all anymore. This is happening to me as I finish sorting all the books at home - books I loved years ago, and I do remember why, intellectually, but I don't viscerally *feel* the same tug. I've moved on, apparently. (Getting older is so weird.)
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