Because I went to the US when I was young (19), certain images have remained with me. It was in New York that I saw my first dead person, a girl propped up against the top of a subway entrance. I asked the policeman how old she was. Same age as me. “What happened ?” “Drugs” he said wearily. And in New York
the streets were marked out (mostly) in blocks and I still refer to blocks.
My mother too referred to the block opposite the house (Cleveland/Kingston/Greenwood/Briarvale) as the little block, the loop that included Kingston as the bigger block. I still hear myself refer to a shop as being “on the block near Sainsburys” or somebody’s house being “two blocks over.”
I was walking up the street one block from home when I saw a collection of objects on the left hand wall: a jug labelled Thousand Island, a glass container with a matching lid, half a dozen any old how plates, two bashed up paperbacks and a candle.
Still Life in the time of Covid, I thought.
One of the things that time on your hands has made many of us do is go through the drawers and the cupboards and the files. Both the Swede (next door but one) and my lovely friends who left for Turkey (currently roosting in Dubai) put out books in boxes and I did well out of them. But what I saw (eyesore)is a perfect example of the difference between a discard and a dump.
I dream of a manageably large single story unfitted building like a garage, dry, in which friends and I could set up a book store: oh yes, one entrance and one exit, two prices (£2 and £5), strictly masked and not more customers than whatever it is – three or five – at a time. You’d have to do with people who like books because only they can even approximate alphabetical order.
The charity book shop which took me through my leanest years was run by a former bookseller so you could find things. Now it’s huggermugger which encourages lingering and fingering but not buying.
When it was raining the other day a friend said he went through all the cupboards to put out two black bags of things he’ll never miss – but not the books. I am in the same boat. I have homes for one or two special volumes to go to but it saddens me that the only way you can get rid of a collection is to give it away. Well fine if you want to endow somewhere – but where ? Books are heavy. You are not going to send them far. Teachers are weighed down
with extra responsibilities under Covid, the absences from Covid, the suspension of the syllabus and so on. It isn’t fair to ask them to take on incoming books in number which have to be catalogued and stored.
Book burning heralds shut minds and the fear that comes with it. Drowned books – sodden and impossible to dry and if dried, unusable – are a sorry mess. But books ignored, killed by neglect, by being dumped – and thus you come to why (lockdown permitting) I hike my disposable reading matter along way over to a charity book shop that treasures books. “Why bother ? Why don’t you just take them up the road ?” friends say but you see, up the road, there is nobody I know of in any number to buy them and they will be dumped and pulped.
It’s not about making money, though I am very happy to make whatever we can for my charity of choice. Or yes, when I look at what I have spent, I’d like something back. Something – almost certainly – towards the next lot
because (as my son long ago discovered) you can always give mother a book. And very early on we arranged that whatever else, I would give him a list of book suggestions so that he need never risk my notorious taste. When he began to buy things for me independently it was thrilling. Though this year we agreed – no shopping – no presents – lovely cards. And that too is a sign of the times.