Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pages Of Acceptance, or: How I Fondled History

It’s a conversation I’ve had many times since the Internet came along and changed the rules of the game.

In fact, I think I had it most recently with the producers of the Simpsons TV piece. I’d been talking about how many of my overseas collectibles came from the early days of eBay and how the arrival of the online auction site changed everything.

Especially for book and collectible shows.

The wife and I had been small-scale bibliophiles in our day and we looked forward to few things as much as we did book shows.

Even the waiting in line was fun: watching the dealers load in their wares, looking over the floor plan handout and deciding which tables to attack first, seeing if so-and-so might be here with that proof copy they promised to bring next time.

Not only did you get to know your fellow bibliomaniacs after awhile, but you started to form relationships with the dealers, many of whom, it must be said, were some of the nicest sorts we’d ever run across.

So nice that we invited a number of them to our wedding. And they came.

People would let you pay for stuff in installments or even leave with the object of desire with the understanding that you could be trusted to pay for it.

At some point, however, we noticed that the words “eBay” and “auction” kept coming up in conversations at these affairs, sometimes floating in the air as you passed a table. And the next show would have fewer dealers and then there were just fewer book shows.

And I guess the point I’m getting to is this:

Maybe it sounds a little over-the-top or pompous to say that these online transactions (social as well as financial) have bled a lot of humanity out of the process. But all of the access to rare goods is no replacement for the market stall, where you could engage someone like-minded in conversation and, most importantly, hold in your hands the object under discussion.

There was nothing like seeing the endless array of books laid out before you, available for browsing, and awaiting your jealous examination.

And examine them we did, beautiful signed firsts that we could never afford, but which were free to hold for as long as we wanted. Rare exotica that was usually buried deep in college libraries was here and could be taken home for the right price. If you couldn’t afford it, though, you could pretend for a few seconds that you could by picking it up and perusing its ancient endpapers.

And that is something that’s been lost, that physical connection, that traveling carnival aspect.

I’m glad that we got in when we did – we got some great things that we could never afford to buy now as the value of rare books never seems to go anywhere but up.

But we got in under the wire, before all of those other wires came along.

I look at my shelves sometimes and marvel at it all. Looking back, it feels like it was a quiet meadow in the middle of my life.

These books all have so many more stories and personalities attached to them than anything I could buy now.

Like so many memories that come up to me at this stage of life, I wonder: did that really happen? So many lifetimes ago?

These books, these lifetimes are mine for a while still. But no one will love them as I have.


Post a Comment

<< Home