Shall I compare thee…In Praise of Ex-library books
They are the ugly stepchildren of the used book business, at best forgotten, but more frequently maligned, cursed, and banned. They are ex-library books and I love them. Let’s face it, anyone can love a crisp, unblemished, jacketed copy of The Sound and the Fury or a lovely Through the Looking Glass in a Riviere binding. There’s no effort there – to truly love a book, you have to see past its faults, and if there’s one thing that ex-library books have, it’s faults: Spine labels, glued on jackets, endpapers excised by a librarian’s ragged letter opener, glue marks, doodles in felt tip marker throughout chapter 3, masking tape repairs to hinges; if you can imagine a problem, I’ve seen a library book with it – and some others.
So what’s to love? For one, the price. Will all those haters out there, nothing is less dear than an ex-library book. There’s also comparatively little competition, and the knowledge that your capacity to love the unlovable makes you a better person. Don’t forget those horrible library bindings – everyone just passes over those, and you might find a nice 1807 First American edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson inside:
So, to express my great affection for these lost and picked over detritus of the used book world, I’ve written a sonnet in their honor. You might notice that in lieu of some iambs (short long) there is the occasional trochee (long short) and maybe even a dactyl or an anapest here or there (which might account for the 11 syllable line). I would like to state, for the record, that these are all intentional and I used them to mirror the imperfections of my subject in the imperfect meter of my verse. Really.
Shall I compare thee to an unread text?
Thou art less lovely but more affordable
Rough hands withdraw them not nor their pages vex
Jackets pristine, their flaws ignorable
An unread book is like a door unope’d
No trips of fancy in its pages had
And worse yet if its pages be uncoup’d
It might as be a rock, a hole, a shad
But thy glittering jacket will not fade
Nor will you be remaindered, forgotten
But taken home by me, my dollar paid
Not treasured or packed with care in cotton
But unlocked and freed from chains academe
Unlocked again a book, a hope, a meme.
Here’s an ex-library Radices Sanscritae for the road, 1827, Berlin.
Post by: Tom Nealon
4268 Washington St.
Roslindale, MA 02131