A regular reader of this site, who shall remain anonymous, emailed me to let me know about an opportunity to peruse through some books in the basement of her mother's home. As someone who is dedicated to addressing the plight of unloved books, I was eager to learn more after reading the message:
When Toledo went through its flooding last year, the basement at my mom's house took in enough water to ruin the floors and make it very musty. Unfortunately, the basement houses thousands of books and the moisture is doing them no good.Now, I get quite a few unusual emails, and I was at first skeptical of the use of the word "thousands" to describe the literary cache. The words "free" and "books" always catch my eyes, though, especially when they are paired together: "free books."
What I saw in the basement of this home is beyond description.
This was a multi-roomed basement filled from floor to ceiling with books on every possible topic. I was awestruck at the endless rows of shelves of texts, and regretted that I only allotted myself two hours for the task.
I found such historical gems as the 3-volume set of Napoleon's Memoirs, and a 2-volume biography on William Pitt the Younger. I took home Bulgarian, Hungarian, Hawaiian, and Polish language dictionaries, as well as quite a few local history narratives with which I was unfamiliar. All told, five shopping bags helped me transport over 90 books to add to my already burgeoning shelves.
There were books in this basement that likely have significant resale value, but I have never approached the written word with an eye toward profit. In fact, it is rare that I even part with a book, unless I give one away to a person I think is "destined" to have it.
Two books come to mind that I find myself giving away repeatedly: John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces and Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I occasionally run into people I feel must have one of these books for a particular reason, and I think I have given away each of these texts three times.
And yet another joy of coming into a trove of old books can be found in reading the inscriptions and bookplates that often accompany a nineteenth century or early twentieth century book. One book had the following pre-ZIP code address sticker:
The Commodore Perry
Toledo 3, Ohio
For those of you too young to remember the introduction of the ZIP code, "Toledo 3" was what was known as a postal zone, and these postal zones were all the rage from 1943 until the late 1960s.
Pictured on the left is a character known as "Mr. Zip," who was supposed to help Americans feel better about switiching to the 5-digit ZIP code, and yes - I had a sudden pang of nostalgia when I saw this illustration.
But I digress, once again.
What started out as another busy-but-typical day has ended on a high note, thanks to my anonymous friend who so generously allowed me the opportunity to sift through the many thousands of books in a basement filled with textual wonder and limitless knowledge.
Once again, many thanks, friend. May your unselfish spirit bring forth equivalent karmic returns.