Thursday, May 24, 2007

Miss P's Home for Wayward Books

Miss Prothero's Books had two "donations" on Wednesday. The first I didn't mind all that much. It arrived in the sunny part of the day when I had just opened the store and was out sweeping. A gray-haired lady in a nondescript Ford slowed (which can be a danger on Santa Fe Drive). She looked up at the sign above the door and pulled into the parking lane by the store.

"Are you the book lady?" she said as she got out of the car. Her tone was clandestine, conspiratorial. What sort of illegitimate creature did she want to get rid of fast? They were cookbooks. A few classics. James Beard, Julia Child, Diana Kennedy. Definitely not illegitimate. And okay, they were in good condition. I was glad to have them.

The second "donation" appeared just after the rain. The young man making the delivery stood in the doorway, shifting from foot to foot, his poncho dripping rain on the free newspapers and the mass market paperbacks in the 50 cent file.

"I've been in here before..." he started.

Yes, he had. He tried to make his rent money one Saturday by selling books that had been folded, spindled and mutilated.

This time he just wanted to give them away. Going back to Austin, he told me. Denver's too big, he said, too violent. And he was taking the bus, so he couldn't take everything with him. He just wanted to give the books away to someone who "might appreciate" them.

What could I say?

The young man made three trips -- house to store, house to store, house to store. And each stack of books he brought was more rain damaged than the next.

Why did I think I could rescue any of them?

This is the dilemma. How can I sell books when too many are intent on folding, spindling, rain-soaking, and giving them away? Has the written word become that cheap?

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