I feel sorry for used books. More specifically, I feel sorry for the authors of those used books.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore book sales – the sea of books, the pleasantly blank faces of browsing patrons, the dusty, moist aroma of old pages. I love these slightly new, slightly read, slightly treasured books. I love the atmosphere, the smells, the sheer overwhelming urge to take all of my clothes off and dive into the middle of a huge pile of books and wallow around like a walrus amongst the dusty book jackets and yellowed pages.
Okay fine, I’m the only one with that urge.
And yet, I can’t help but feel sorry for the little guys. There they sit, all perfectly lined up, all hoping that some avid reader will pick them, take them home, read their fine print, and caress their pages. These poor, pathetic, slightly damaged little books all hope that someday, somehow, their dreams of being placed in the coveted, and much-loved bookcase will come true.
Used books are like skinny, pathetic, mature dogs at animal shelters whose eyes are bigger than their whole bodies. It just breaks my heart to see so many of them passed by. People prefer puppies because they are small, they are full of promising entertainment, and of course they’re cute.
New books are cute, too. See their shiny covers? Do you hear how the spines moan and creak when you part the pages? Have you noticed how the fluorescent glow of the bookstores’ lights bounce off the glossy jackets? They are tempting, true. The thought of buying a book that no one else has likely touched – the pages have not been sullied with the oils from another human finger. The pages are crisp; they crackle with pleasure as you turn them. New books are like a new puppy; they are exciting, fun, and hold so much promise of many entertaining hours ahead.
But alas, new books are expensive. And they quickly depreciate in value once you’ve stepped over the threshold of the bookstore. They grow old quickly, their pages yellowing, the ink fading from rich oil blackness to the dull, matte like finish of weathered asphalt.
And then no one wants them. And then they end up in a used bookstore. The most they can hope for at this point is some old woman with missing teeth snatching them from their wire bins, gutting their innards, ripping their pages out, one by one, and lining her shopping basket with them to protect the cans and bottles she collects for their recyclable value.
Book enthusiasts must unite. We must form an organization to save “mature” books. They didn’t ask for this treatment; they were born to please, to entertain, to illustrate dreams and provide a backdrop for the imagination to freely paint a picture.
And how do you think the authors of these books feel? Do you think they ever pore over the books in a used bookstore and gasp with surprise when they see their baby, forgotten and abandoned, among so many other orphans? All of their hard work has been reduced to bargain bin prices. What must they think?
I often wonder what my reaction would be, to see my work offered for the low, low price of .10 cents. Would it bother me? Would I feel cheapened, perhaps even used in some discarded bookish way? I’ve thought long and hard about this, weighing realistic reactions to fantasies of saving the books and carrying them out of the store like Richard Gere carried Debra Winger out of the factory in the movie, An Officer and a Gentlemen.
Would I cringe when I watched people pick my book up, lightly scan the blurb on the back and then promptly slip it back into its slot? Or would it be worse to watch them carry it around for a bit, weighing the entertainment possibilities, and then deciding it wasn’t worth their time, to toss it haphazardly down, the book sticking out like a white puppy surrounded by black canines because now it’s sitting in the wrong genre bin. Would my heart lurch with pain? Would I hyperventilate with sorrow?
It’s hard to answer that with certainty. I’m sure I would feel a measure of disappointment, sure; I’m human after all. However, I don’t think it would crush me. I don’t think I would take it personally. Because you see, I’m not writing for fame and fortune, though that is certainly a sideline perk, but rather, I write because I enjoy it. It releases some sort of unseen, indeed, unknown, tension deep inside my soul and I feel satisfied that I was able to extract it before it spoiled and turned to rot, distorting my outlook on life in general. I write because I want to leave a small part of me behind. I write because of the personal satisfaction and the knowledge that my words might very well jump start someone else’s imagination – for creativity seems to be a dying art in today’s world. And last, but not least, I write in the hopes that the reader closes my book feeling better about themselves specifically and the world in the general.
Tell me, why do you write?
This was originally published on Write Anything, April 28, 2006.