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On Books No One Reads and Being a Writer

I used to walk into a library when I was in grade school and look for books no one had checked out for a long time. You used to be able to do that by pulling out the little card; you could even see who else had read that book. It sounds weird, but...I would feel guilty if no one had read that book for many years and I'd check it out. Most of the time I'd try and read at least some of it, but sometimes I'd just check it out.

I liked books as a little kid and thought I might be a writer someday. I had a couple sitting on my shelf that almost acted as talismans, making me feel good seeing them there. Keeping me company.

Later when the town had a used bookstore, I'd look at all the books there. I'd think of all the people who spent years of their lives, represented by each book, hundreds, thousands of books. And each author poured their guts and souls into books...that no one wanted anymore. Rotting books, sitting on a shelf. Like so many stacked tombstones.

I have boxes and boxes of books that are in storage, piled in my house. I cannot bear to part with them.

I think we write because of a lot of things. Thinking that's the way to leave something of us on earth after we die. To be validated by others, and seek others who think like us, at least a little, and so we don't feel as alone. Sure, making a living would be great, and getting rich even better. But that isn't realistic is it.

Maybe we just gotta write the way we live. We write, we don't know where the ripples go, if there are any at all. We live, seeking meaning however we find it, in the moment, in kids, in a good party, in how much money we make or business we build. Of course, 99 percent of the time, whatever we do disappears in our lifetime or soon after. That goes for our writing too, whether it disappears in a blog archive or a used bookstore.

But you don't just stop breathing, and you don't just stop writing, if that's how you are made.

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You won't be expecting this

Your story reminds me of something I read about Ronald Reagan. According to the story I read, which may or may not be true, in his later years, his early nineties and suffering from Alzheimer's, he was grasping a snow globe with the White House in it and carrying it around. When a family member asked him why he was holding it, he reportedly said, "I have a feeling it has something to do with me."

That is how I have always felt about books themselves, almost any book, especially old ones, and everything to do with books--signatures and dates on the insides of library books, libraries themselves, book plates, old bookstores, and even photos of authors and old book reviews. I have a feeling it has something to do with me. And I have since I was little, like you.

Your essay also reminds me of how we anthropomorphize and sympathize with books, we feel the books are kin to us, although it seems silly. But it's not silly because books are, more than they are anything else, people. (Insert joke regarding other famous Republican figure, Charlton Heston, here.)

Finding a book and caring about it is transporting  and sort of bafflingly bittersweet whether you wrote it or read it or want to read it. Maybe this is because we'll never read all the books we want to read, or write all the books we want to write, which gives a melancholy edge to loving books, like loving life. 

In holding and contemplating a single book, I would quote William Blake, "To see the world in a grain of sand / and heaven in a wild flower / hold infinity in the palm of your hand / and eternity in an hour." I am not sure if William Blake's politics would translate as American 1980s Republican, but if so, that would round out my unintentional sub-theme here.

Thanks for the thoughtful Red Room essay!

Ivory Madison
Founder and CEO, Red Room

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Thank you for the connecting

Thank you for the connecting insights, Ivory. Everything is connected. As the Lakota say,"Mitakuye Oyasin" (All My Relatives). And thanks for Red Room, a wonderful way to connect as writers!