A Love/Hate Relationship

Once a year the local Hospital Auxiliary has a used book sale. They take over the town ice arena and for five days put on a book sale of immense proportions. Every inch of the hockey area floor is covered in tables of books. Close to 70,000 by this years estimate. They raise close to a million dollars for the hospital, which is city owned. I love this sale. I am a bibliophile by anyone’s description and I go to the sale several times to scour the tables for treasures. Most are priced at a dollar or two which makes it easy to come home with a box of them. This year is no different. What is different this year is that I am finding I’m allergic to old books. I’ve lived most of my life without having allergy problems but as I age I find that changing. Old books often smell of mildew and other smells I can’t describe. I love the smell of paper, of sticking my nose into the pages of breathing deeply in. It is a smell of age, of life and love, a smell of wisdom and knowledge. I love it. But this year, it doesn’t love me back.

There’s a revolt going on in my head. Ever since I brought the first of my finds into the house my sinuses have been in chaos. That’s it, they said. We’re not taking it any more. This is too much and we’re fighting back. And fight back they have. My head has been blocked up like someone filled it with cement. And then all at once it decides to soften up and leave. Sneezing, blowing and running like an open tap on a sink, with watery, itchy eyes. And then, miraculously, it stops and plugs up again. I’m trying to decide which torture is worse. What fresh hell is this, I wonder when I sense a change up there. And then it attacks, like a defeated army giving one last heroic surge before they die. Except they don’t die. They fall back and rally again. And again.

This is particularly disheartening because I love old books. I have books on a huge variety of subjects and learning for the sake of learning has become a big hobby over the years. Politics, religion, philosophy, travel, geography, I love it all. I can’t get enough. But the books are killing me. Turning me into a quivering mass of dull headed tissue unable to move. As I write this there seems to be a truce taking place. The armies are quiet for the moment as if they’re in negotiation or something. Either that or they’re plotting the next big foray maybe with new found weapons of destruction. I’ll take it, whatever it is, but I’m afraid of what comes next. Who knows, maybe they’ll decide the war is won and they’ll slink off to wherever snot goes when it’s not trying to kill you. One can only hope.

This years finds are mostly philosophy. Plato, Karl Marx, Montaigne and the like. There’s one called, “The Sex Lives Of Cannibals” by J. Martin Troost, which is not actually about cannibals or they’re love lives. And one about classical music. If I continue to breathe, they should keep me busy for quite a while. As it stands, this is the outcome I’m hoping for.


Oh boy, A New Book!

I bought a book yesterday. That’s nothing unusual in my life as I have done that probably thousands of times. I can’t even imagine the amount of money I have spent on books but it’s money well spent as far as I’m concerned. I have learned more from reading than from any other source or activity ever. This book, with it’s irreverent title (see above) caught my eye. The first sentence inside the dust jacket says: “For decades we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. But those days are over.” I had to buy it! It goes on to say, “-that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade but on learning to better stomach lemons.” Just from reading that much I knew this was going to be a good book.

Now I’ve only read as far as chapter four so I can’t give a complete review of the book but what I can say is that it reaffirms what I’ve believed for most of my life. That in order to be a whole person you have to accept the bad with the good. Humans are capable of the most selfless acts of compassion and the most heinous horrors imaginable. That basically means that most of us are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Concentrating on the positive all the time while hiding from the negative leaves a big part of our selves flapping in the wind like a ragged, dirty flag. The author says that pain and suffering are tools that can and should be used to teach us what not to do and how not to be. And they are just as important, sometimes more important than all the good, happy things about ourselves. And if we don’t embrace the ugliness inside of us all, we cannot be whole (my words). We only have so much that we can care about (the author uses the term, “give a #@%!”), and we will exhaust ourselves if we don’t choose the important things to give a #@%! about and discard the rest.

In the early Seventies when I was a teenager I read a book called, “Manchild In The Promised Land” by Claude Brown. It is the autobiographical story of the author’s life growing up in Harlem New York amid poverty, drugs, and violence. As a teen growing up in an average, white mid-western town I had no idea of life outside my bubble. This book opened my eyes to a larger world and basically showed how the author embraced his childhood as a major part of who he was. All the ugliness, crime, violence, drugs, etc, helped to make him a whole person. (As an adult, he became a lawyer.) The point is, our lives are not all laughter, and roses and happiness. There’s a lot of dirt mixed in. A lot of trash and just plain shit in there as well. And it all has helped to make us who we are.

The Buddha said that life is filled with suffering. And if you follow Buddhism’s Eight Fold Path, you can find a way out of suffering and reach enlightenment. Buddhism says that desire, clinging to desires or things, causes suffering. The way out of suffering is to rid yourself of those desires. But isn’t the desire to reach enlightenment simply another desire? In the Subtle Art Of Not Giving A #@%!, the author suggests that pain and suffering are tools we can use to become better people. Concentrating on the positive all the time and hiding from the negative keeps us from being whole. We need to find better ways of dealing with the negative aspects of ourselves and life in general because the negative is not going away. As the authors says, instead of trying to turn lemons into lemonade, we need to find better ways of stomaching the lemons.

I have been blessed with never needing or wanting a “self help” book, and this book defiantly falls into that category. But if you can get past the fact that the author uses the F word about a hundred times in the first chapter, You may like it. When you feel differently than just about everyone you know, it’s great to find a book or another person who lets you know that there are others out there who feel the same, it can be profound.

The Old Bookstore

It is an unassuming brown, brick building
with vines growing up it’s sides.
Cars and people pass by without
so much as a wink or a nod, but
to the initiated, it is a storehouse
of treasure worth more than gold.

A small bell tinkles as you push
open the faded green door and the
smell that greets you cannot be
described. As you try to put words
to it they fail and you can only
stand for a few moments and
breathe it in like a long lost memory.

An old shop cat languishes in a
ray of sun atop one of the shelves
from a cracked and dirty window as
its tail slowly slides back and forth
keeping the books behind it clean.

You are greeted by a tiny old woman
with snow white hair and dentures
that move ever so slightly as she
presents you with as warm a smile as your
grand mother did when you were young.

And here you will find mystery, and
biography and love. Oh yes love, a
whole section of pastel spined
romance novels just waiting for the
unsuspecting to fall in and drown
among the printed words.

How to and cookbooks, crime stories
and poetry. Auto repair manuals and
history. Science fiction and humor.
And you must touch them, hold them
in your hands and smell them, feel
their smooth, age worn covers with
bent corners and torn edges.

And you want to stay here, ask for
a job so you can come back again
tomorrow, and the next day and never
leave this paradise of the written
word, this sanctuary of knowledge,
this holy shrine of old books.

But you know you cannot. You know
you must leave and resume your life,
and on the way home you dream of
having your own old bookstore one
day. You’ll have a cat and a rocking
chair in the corner and a tinkling
bell on the door. And the door will
be green, and you’ll have gray hair.