Books can transport one to places and experiences like no other medium, but transporting the books themselves that accumulate over decades of reading is, to me, becoming less and less appealing.
I have always cherished my humble book collection from the common paperback reprints (mostly science fiction, art, theater, humor, popular science, and a bit of philosophy) to the rarer niche treatises (plays, pop ups and technical manuals for stage and closeup magicians.) While I will always admire a clever binding technique or a beautifully illustrated coffee table tome, my desire to own them as objects d’art is waning. I believe this is attributable to their increasing ease of acquisition.
Tracking down a desired volume was once a mini-treasure hunt. Whether it was a quick drive to the nearest Waldenbooks or a months of searching through the dusty shelves of used book stores, the search and discovery of the physical object was often as satisfying as the book’s content. Today a few seconds of Googling leads to an overnight delivery of almost any paper-bound compendium, if not the text and illustrations themselves digitally served up for instant perusal (in varying shades of legality.)
One of the many upsides of this accessibility is that I find my previous desire to collect, if not horde, books has turned 180 degrees. Douglas Coupland is credited with saying “Never loan a book to someone if you expect to get it back.” My glass-half-full-of-karma paraphrasing of this quote becomes my new motto. “Always give your books away and don’t accept them back.”
Today I completed a delightful vacation-read, an autobiography of comedian Fred Allen, while on a Mediterranean cruise. Deck chairs are much more compatible with paperbacks than iPad e-books. Upon finishing the book, I inscribed it (or perhaps defiled it) with the following thoughts that may be of mild interest to the book’s next reader.
Fred Allen was one of the top American radio stars of the 1930’s – 40’s and was considered one of the sharpest comedy minds of his day. In “Much Ado about Me” he chronicles his earlier career, from his start on the professional “amateur circuit” in 1920’s Boston through his rise to national success in the Vaudeville “big-time.”
The book is also a fascinating glimpse into the unique lifestyle of Vaudevillian performers during the dying days of that short-lived (50 years) entertainment medium. Chapter 14 in particular, titled “The Life and Death of Vaudeville,” describes for the modern reader a vivid picture of the work-a-day life of “the acrobats, the animal acts, the dancers, the singers, and the old-time comedians who have taken their final bows and disappeared into the wings of obscurity.”
I finished reading this book while aboard the Norwegian Epic off the coast of Cannes, France and am subsequently donating it to the ship’s library. If you enjoy this oeuvre as much as I did please send me a note with your impressions.
June 5, 2015
I included my email address and dropped the book off in the return slot of the ship’s library. My hand-scrawled message may see fewer actual readers than any message in a bottle ever cast to sea, but I do hope someday to hear from a reader on those same waters who found and enjoyed the stories in that book.