What Things Are Worth: Books


From the cover of the New Yorker
From the cover of the New Yorker

I WAS DUPED.

I was misled. I was taken by hand down the primrose path, and dumped at the end of it with piles of pages and boxes of books, volume upon volume and tome upon tome: so many  that I can no longer carry them without causing a debilitating flare-up of my sciatica, which, alas, renders me useless for just about every activity, except reading.

Books are the buggy whips of our age. But worse. You only need one buggy whip: books act in synergy to make sequels, trilogies, collections, and ultimately libraries.

But nobody wants them anymore. The pleasures of reading are experienced ever less.

So what am I supposed to do with all of these books I’ve collected, from stories that I’ve liked to the so-called canon of  “Great Books” that are supposed to be on Everyman’s shelf?

I have to fucking move. Why? Because I didn’t have it in writing. I trusted my stupid idiot landlord, which makes me the stupid idiot. She goes and gets knocked up by someone who isn’t even her boyfriend and decides that she needs her house back. I told her: I need to stay until my daughter finishes grade school. But she’s pregnant now, and it’s probably the first time anyone in MA has been pregnant for at least 10 years, so such a momentous occasion trumps everything else. What, she can afford this place now that she can shake someone down for child support? Whatever.

And I have all of these books to move. Here’s a copy of EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization &Reprocessing,  purporting to be  “The Breakthrough “Eye Movement” Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety , Stress, and Trauma.” (I actually tried this therapy once. Years ago. Went to a guy in Newton who got paid to move his finger back and forth like a metronome. Then I found out that he wrote “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Reincarnation.” It ranks #1,484,901 on all Amazon book sales, but it just barely makes it into the top 100 (it is #100) in New Age Books on the site. By comparison, Eric Kraft’s Inflating a Dog: The Story of Ella’s Lunch Launch,  a great and inventive read, ranks #3,731,034.) So let’s see. I save the lives of dogs, and this guy writes books on reincarnation and teaches people to watch metronomes. He lives in Newton, and I can’t even afford to live in Framingham anymore. Hmmmm.

So here’s the question: why on G-d’s green earth would anyone spend his time writing? Certainly not to be read, because it ain’t going to happen. Too busy tuning into Netflix, hoping to find the one good movie that has been rotated in as enticement to keep us from canceling our worthless subscription.Ya certainly don’t write for money. The internet put even more unnecessary words out there, and the jobs that once paid $1500 per article dropped to $150. Not worth the time. Intellectual burger flipping.

Collect books to pass them on? My children, alas, show no great interest in reading. The hours I spent with my head buried in discovery don’t seem so appealing to them. Did I waste all that time reading? Does it make any difference now? Was all the money spent on books better spent on tomato seeds (heirloom, naturally), travel, and automobiles ?

Oh, I am disillusioned. But I  am not bitter. Promise.  I am sitting here on the piles of books, needing to say good-bye but unable to do so. They won’t even go to a good home. They will be sent to the recycling plant and turned into cereal boxes and grocery bags, and maybe even toilet paper. The words that once made the author so proud will be brought low, made to wipe someone’s ass.

I came across Yukio Mishima’s The Sea of Fertility tetraology today. He killed himself–well, not just killed himself, but committed seppuku–when it was finished. It was his final effort, his statement to the world.

For those of you interested, it starts out like this:

When conversation at school turned to the Russo-Japanese War, Kiyoaki Matsugae asked his closest friend, Shigekuni Honda, how much he could remember about it. Shigekuni’s memories were vague–he just barely recalled having been taken once to the front gate to watch a torchlight procession. The year the war ended they had both been eleven, and it seemed to Kiyoaki that they should be able to remember it a little more accurately. Their classmates who talked so knowingly about the war were for the most part merely embellishing hazy memories with tidbits they had picked up from grown-ups.

Two members of the Matsugae family, Kiyoaki’s uncles, had been killed. His grandmother still received a pension from the government, thanks to these two sons she had lost , but she never used the money; she left the envelopes unopened on the ledge of the household shrine. Perhaps that was why the photograph which impressed Kiyoaki most out of the entire collection of was photographs in the house was one entitled “Vicinity of Tokuri Temple: Memorial Services for the War Dead” and dated June 26, 1904, the thirty-seventh year of the Meiji era. This photograph, printed in sepia ink, was quite unlike the usual cluttered mementos of the war. It had been composed with an artist’s eye for structure: it really made it seem as if the thousands of soldiers who were present were arranged deliberately , like figures in a painting, to focus the entire attention of the viewer on the tall cenotaph of unpainted wood in their midst.mishima and EMDR

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