I haven’t seen Rick Ridder in years but loved reading his 2016 book, Looking for Votes in All the Wrong Places. I bought it to add to his sales numbers, support him in my own small way. We both survived the 1980s Gary Hart presidential campaigns. So when it comes to making room on the shelves for other sympathy books, the ties that bind keep Rick’s book in place.
My built-in bookshelf clings to the entire southern wall of my small living-dining room. It’s stuffed. Books, old Vanity Fairs, photos, souvenirs, dog sculptures, used conference binders, scrabble, dominoes, a small portable heater and my writing notebooks all collide on the faded white sagging shelves.
When the time comes to rack the newer books, stockpiled on all the flat surfaces in my living space, I painstakingly pull the old prisoners from their slots on the shelves. They sit on the floor for hours, days, weeks, awaiting sentencing. I stare at the titles. Agonize over their fate. I wish then, more than at any other time in the hours before twilight, for a piece of someone to discuss the disposition of the hoard and share in my decision-making.
“What about this one? Remember this? Dimitir by William Peter Blatty. Mark suggested it when I told him Blatty named the girl in The Exorcist after me. Did I read it? Should I save it?”
“Oh, then there’s: Age Doesn’t Matter Unless You’re a Cheese. Jeanette gave me that when I turned 70. Maybe there’s something in it I can use for my writing.”
“Oh yeah. Listen to this. Ram Dass: ‘I used to have a sign over my computer that read OLD DOGS CAN LEARN NEW TRICKS, but lately I ask myself how many more new tricks I want to learn—isn’t it better to be outdated.’”
“Outdated! Is that how I should think of these old darlings?”
Oh, I tried long ago to get help with this salvage operation. It broke down, however, when I plunged into the stories behind my keepsake books. No matter how good a friend I netted, my stories bored in the telling and the telling and the telling. I sit alone now on a stool wheeling around the wreckage from title to title.
“These? Oh no, must save Ian Rankin, my favorite mystery author. Oh, c’mon, Regan. It’s not as if they’re going in the garbage. Put them on the bookshelves in the laundry room. Someone’s bound to enjoy them before they get carted off to the used book sale at the Newberry Library.”
“Ok, these can go—two books by David Ellis. Oh, well, maybe. He’s the lawyer-turned-mystery-writer who prosecuted Rod Blagojevich. A good lawyer. And a good writer.”
“Richard North Patterson’s, Exile, needs to go. It’s old and smells. Musty. But I’m so grateful that it helped me understand the Israel-Palestine mess. Maybe I’ll read it again.”
Loneliness has its price. Out of this last 24-book pile-up, only one goes to the graveyard: The Complete Book of Food Counts.