Thursday, October 22, 2020

Bookmarked


     I don't read for pleasure.
     Well, I do, in the sense that I enjoy reading immensely, and always have, back to when I first learned how to read, and would devour ... what were they? "Dan Frontier" books. I loved those.
     What I mean is I don't read solely for pleasure. There is always the next column, or blog post, or book over the horizon, if not due in a few hours, lurking in the back of my mind. You never know when a passage will come in handy, and need to be found again. Bookmarks make that possible. Otherwise, you forget.
     Which is why wherever I regularly read, there are pads of small Post-It notes scattered nearby. On the night table. In a drawer in my desk. In a drawer in the coffee table. In my briefcase. Dozens of them. I never want to look for a Post-It note, I want to glance down, grab one, stick in the margins, and continue reading. (I could no more dog-ear a book or underline it than I could toss a book into the fire. If you want to discuss this, you may. Text books, yes, or galleys being reviewed. Those are disposable. But nothing else). 
     There are times, however, when a Post-It is not nearby. Then I grab whatever is handy—a scrap of paper, an envelope, a check, anything. I'll open my wallet and grab a business card. (Not that you give people business cards anymore. They're fomites, aka, objects that transmit disease). 
     But people used to carry them, and I wasn't alone in the habit of using business cards as bookmarks.
     Tuesday I pulled a book off the shelf, to do some research for my next book. "Truman," by David McCullough. It opened to a business card, but it wasn't mine. It was Steve Neal's, my former Sun-Times colleague, our political columnist, who died, by his own hand, in February, 2004. 
    I almost gasped, to see it there. And then I remembered. His office at the Sun-Times was jammed, floor-to-ceiling, with books. I had permission, when working on something, to just go in and take one. I didn't have to ask; he didn't have to be there. A very generous man, in that and other regards. I remember standing on his desk, balancing precariously, reaching over to grab some volume shelved up high, near the ceiling.
     After he died, his family took some books, and the rest were just piled nearby, an enormous mound, a yard high. I took armloads of books back to my office—the McCullough was a no-brainer. They retain the calm, scholarly air of their previous owner: Steve's books. I'm not alone in that attitude either: if you go down to the Abraham Lincoln Library in Springfield, there is a corner with Neal's portrait, and a couple shelves of his books, as in books written by him. It seems an apt tribute. 
    Yes, it's easier to search books online. But not every book is online, and those that are can be severely limited. "Snippet view." How I hate that term. Besides, nothing beats having books around, at hand, accessible. It leads to all sorts of serendipitous encounters and random discoveries, such as picking up an old book and being reminded of a passage that was worth highlighting. Or of a colleague, gone now more than 16 years, who was a splendid man, and worth remembering. 




     

     

14 comments:

  1. A few weeks ago , I learned I would have to move for the first time in 17 years. My landlord a longtime friend is selling the property.

    So many books too many. So we began sorting . Considered a storage locker. For what ? I'm 62. Time to cull. 2 maybe 3 hundred I've read and wouldn't read again or never will. The wife went through them and only wanted a few. Boxed them up and made some calls. Nobody's willing to come get them. Where an I take them. Goodwill says thousands have poured in please don't. Used bookstores can't keep up with the volume. Dumpster? Geez! Didn't have the stomach. Women's center? Fomite. One of my sons who kindles " took" them somewhere? Argh . The few thousand records are next. At least you can get a buck apiece for them in bulk and the boys want some of them. Pretty good damn depressing.

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    1. Books4Cause is a great place. They will schedule a pick up. I don't have the number handy but they have a good website. I was estate cleaning and those I didn't take went to them.

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    2. There are dozens of those Little Free Libraries around you. Spread them out among them.

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    3. Libraries still take books...at least the ones that have "friends of the library" organizations that conduct used book sales. Many of the libraries in Northeast Ohio still take used books. Don't know about elsewhere.

      And Half-Price Books used to buy used books, for peanuts, but now they're overwhelmed. Some Habitat For Humanity ReStore sites may still be accepting donations of books. Ours stopped, because they weren't selling quickly enough. Now they go to used-book dealers, or are resold online.

      "Truman," by David McCullough, is a masterpiece. Won the Pulitzer. When we visted friends in Kansas City 25 years ago, my first stop was the Truman Library in Independence. What a treasury of American history. Went to a bookstore afterward, and bought the paperback edition as a gift for our hosts. Five years later, when we vsited them again, our hosts gave me the same copy of the book, as a gift.

      Great work, about a great man...and my favorite POTUS. I have a whole shelf of Truman books, but McCullough's is the best. Just got done re-reading his account of the '48 election. The final Gallup Poll had Truman down by five. He won by four.The last two weeks were what gave him the win.

      Never say "it's in the bag"...until it is. It ain't over until it's over.
      (Cub fans already know this)

      Go vote for Joe, if you haven't already. Cross your fingers. And toes. And eyes. If you pray, do it. Then do it again.

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  2. I enjoyed reading Neal's columns, but never could figure out why he disliked Dick Durbin so much. I don't remember any acute differences of opinion between the two; perhaps he thought Durbin insincere, hypocritical or opportunistic.
    As to the post-it notes, I wish I had gotten in that habit long ago, given that reliance on my overconfident memory has bedeviled me since my newspaper delivery days. At that time, the custom was that the delivery boys (always boys back then, never girls, never adults as is the norm today) would hand out calendars at Xmas, expecting tips. Foolishly, I did not keep up a check off list and thus lost out on a lot of tips, because despite my confidence, when push came to shove, I wasn't sure of whether I had given a customer a calendar or not. Alas, a lesson I never really learned.

    john

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    1. Neal thought Durbin was ineffectual, particularly regarding O'Hare airport. If you recall, it was an ordeal trying to get a new runway, and the concern was, without it, we would fall behind and Dallas or Atlanta would go thundering past us. He wanted Durbin to Get It Done.

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    2. Thanks, Neil. Now I can quit wondering.

      john

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  3. I notice that one of the books in your picture is Samuel Eliot Morison's "Oxford History of the American People." I've always loved that book and wish it were taught in schools instead of the bland pap that passes for history texts today. (Except maybe for his approach to slavery and Reconstruction, which I always thought was a little too, shall we say, even-handed.)

    My bookcase is replete with paperbacks that are falling to pieces, a few of which I've had literally since high school, and I still can't bear to get rid of them. It's embarrassing.

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    1. Believe it or not, I read it when I was 16, and a junior counselor at summer camp. If you read a general history of the United States, you can cakewalk through your education.

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  4. A long time ago I came across an odd and old five dollar note, in near perfect condition. To preserve it, I placed it temporarily and carefully in the pages of a hard cover volume. That's the last I saw of it. Looking for it some time later I unsuccessfully riffled through every book on my shelves. Wish I'd had a post it note.

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  5. I too read Morison's Oxford History in high school. I had an upcoming SAT "achievement test" and I knew my high school history class had left me short. It was great reading and I aced the test.

    When we moved out of our house in Oak Park seventeen years ago I got rid of 100 boxes of books, many to the friends of the library book sale back when there were such things. When we moved last month from the condo in Forest Park I got rid of another 20 boxes. Fortunately the Brown Elephant was still happy to take them. Yet when we got up here our first purchase for the new place was, you guessed it, two more bookcases. As addictions go, I'm happy with mine.

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    1. I read Oliver Wiswell in high school, which armed me with facts (such as they were) to prevail in an argument as to which side, the rebelling colonists or the Loyalists, met the higher moral standard. I didn't realize until very recently how very conservative author Kenneth Roberts was. If he could defend the crown, as he ably did, he far surpassed the Scalia Originalists, who were rank liberals in comparison.

      john

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    2. I read Oliver Wiswell in high school, which armed me with facts (such as they were) to prevail in an argument as to which side, the rebelling colonists or the Loyalists, met the higher moral standard. I didn't realize until very recently how very conservative author Kenneth Roberts was. If he could defend the crown, as he ably did, he far surpassed the Scalia Originalists, who were rank liberals in comparison.

      john

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  6. Not a Hardy Boys kid? Those were my childhood favorites.

    "the McCullough was a no-brainer" One would think so. After my wife and I each enjoyed "Truman" a lot, I bought a copy for my brother -- more of a reader than myself, actually -- but he was not a fan, for whatever reason. As you can tell, I've never gotten over it. :)

    I don't recall using a business card for a bookmark, but I have used the receipt from the purchase, which is often a good reminder when I finally get to reading a book 20 years after I bought it. I'm always intrigued to see a CTA transfer slip in an old book -- alas, those don't have years printed on them.

    Anyway, a wonderful post and a fine tribute to your colleague. Nice to focus on something other than the ongoing, slow-motion nightmare that I imagine Mr. Neal might find hard to believe if he were covering it.

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