May 7, 2008
I came away from a recent meeting with my old self and the first question that came to mind was, "Who is this guy?"
There are these boxes, you see, "crates" if you will, full of books from my past, and for the most part they had been living in the dark, receiving absolutely no love, for the past dozen years or so.
Now, knowing the current me, they would more than likely have continued their dust-gathering meditations well into the future had not an imperative come down that they be moved in an expeditious manner. Actually, if the truth be told, the books weren’t the problem. It was the space they occupied.
Another set of boxes, these of the sturdy cardboard variety and also jam-packed full of windows into my past, had been given the lease on the shelving in question. So, in service to the gods of expedience, the only logistical rationale available required that the book crates find shelter elsewhere.
This meant, of course, that a weeding process would be undertaken. Why displace the lot of them if a reduction in volume isn’t part of the process. Each book had to be extracted from its crate, subjected to some sort of worthiness examination, and placed in a particular pile.
Now, under the heading of truth in advertising, it should be noted here that the vast majority of these books (at least 90 percent) came from the mid-to-late 1960s, a time frame wherein reading and book acquisition occupied a not small portion of my days.
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Even when attempting to travel light during hitchhiking forays about the continent, I would encounter a "must have" or two (or three or four) that would have to be lugged around until I returned home. And, of course, they would be gathered up and toted to each succeeding stop along the journey of life.
They even played a large role in the selection of Park City rather than Jackson Hole as to where roots would be put down at the dawn of the ’70s. The trip up north to Teton country in search of the illusive abode proved unsuccessful when ground-floor digs couldn’t be located. Carrying the book boxes up even one flight of stairs was not an option.
All I can say is that they made for some rather impressive bookshelves along the way. And under even a quantum of self-analysis, that may well have been the chief motivating factor all along. If I could only get others to look at my hipper-than-thou book collection, maybe they wouldn’t look all that closely at me.
But, meanwhile, back at the ranch, each volume is being cut from the herd and scrutinized as to which new pasture it will be assigned. Various stacks are taking shape. One of the first piles, to be sure, featured lost loves.
Back during the waning days of my misspent youth, I had picked up a small volume of poetry and, as was my wont, casually leafed through it. Finding it of interest, I added it to my burgeoning collection. As the fates and muses would have it, Louise Glück would go on to become Poet Laureate of the United States and I would have a first edition of her first book on my wall.
Until, that is, another move was in order. Then, once again, Louise and her mates would find their shelf lives disrupted and wake up in a crate bouncing down yet another obscure two-lane on their way toward an ill-defined future. Not to worry, of course. She and many of her peers made the cut and won’t be tossed or given away or donated.
What loomed as highly disconcerting over the process, however, at least through the current wave of hindsight, were the many clouds of cumulus-ponderous drifting above the book titles. If the volumes in question are any indication, most everything I read back then tended toward the philosophical, theosophical, psychoanalytical, or radical revolutionary.
The strangest of bedfellows dotted the literary landscape. One constant over the years had the "Communist Manifesto" and the "Book of Mormon" side by side. For some reason, I always got a kick out of that.
Not that the ironic hilarities of Ken Kesey, Kurt Vonnegut, and Phillip Roth weren’t represented, but writers as varied as Demosthenes, Dante, Nietzsche, Günter Grass, Kirkegaard, Proust, Sartre, and Marcuse seemed to hold the most sway. What kind of diet was this guy on?
As far as the revolutionary writing, there were insights to be had. It became immediately obvious that the poetry of Ho Chi Minh existed at a much higher level than that of Che Guevara. Of course the former wrote mainly from French prisons while the latter usually occupied a ditch.
Works by Thomas Merton and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin gave evidence that I continued to be somewhat in touch with my Catholic side. Whatever discipline was represented by Herman Hesse, Marshall McLuhan, Dostoevsky, and Mahatma Gandhi, however, featured slumgullion on its menu.
Not much of a surprise, really, that the guy who lived among these books has become a stranger from a strange land. There’s something to be said for being "ill defined." Maybe we could learn more from the other collection of boxes, the cardboard containers that are moving into the space previously occupied by the bookish ones.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.