Monday, October 27, 2014

Owning Books, or Am I a Hoarder?


It is indisputable that I own too many books, although simultaneously I believe one cannot own too many books.  But I do have more than I can put on shelves, more than my home and office can hold, and many of my books are “stored” in the garage.   A topic for another discussion is why I don’t use my Kindle.  But for now I admit: I have a problem.  I have agreed, in theory, to get rid of three books for every new one I acquire.   This pledge (which is pretty much all it is, so far) has been approved of at home.
So, I realize that I have two copies of many books.  This is understandable, right?  You have a teaching copy of this or that, both a hardcover and a paperback of a book, a gift of a book you already own, a 25 cent copy at the library sale that you couldn’t resist. Many are the reasons I can rationalize for owning two copies of single book.
Then, I realized that there are also titles of which I own three copies.  Can this be justified?  Well, I can justify it to myself, but probably not to you.  But let’s look at the titles of these thrice-owned texts and see if there is any rhyme or reason to it.  It’s not a long, nor surprising (to me), list:
The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald.  Actually there’s an edition of this I would like yet to acquire, with notes by Mathew Bruccoli.
Walden, or, My Life in the Woods, by Thoreau.  My paperback Riverside edition from graduate school is the one with all my notes in it.  I consult it often.
Mt Analogue, A Novel Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventure in Mountain Climbing, by Rene Daumal.  I have the first hardcover English version translated by Roger Shattuck.  When I acquired it in the early 1970s it was the only one in print in English.  I also have a copy in French (symbolic).
Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry.  The newest one I acquired has a new intro by William Vollman which necessitated its acquisition.
Starlight and Storm: the Ascent of the Six Great North faces of the Alps, by Gaston Rebuffat.  One at home, one at school, and one recently gifted to me by the great Bernie Wood, book aficionado, collector, hoarder, and friend.
Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier.  Didn’t realize I had three until I found one by accident in the garage.  But I do love this book.  One of my copies is a first edition that I paid pennies for.
Cascade Alpine Guide: Climbing and High Routes: Volume 1--Columbia River to Stevens Pass. Volume 1, Fred Beckey.  First edition, revised edition, climbing partner trimming his library.
Yosemite Climbers Guide, George Myers.  Yeah, I have three of these, too.  I also have two of Steve Roper’s Yosemite guidebooks, both the red and green covers, and a couple Supertopos.  Plus, Tuolumne Meadows which is also in Yosemite National Park. 
When I think about it, none of the books on this list is a surprise.  The situation is precisely as it should be.
Just to check, I searched out an on-line Hoarder’s Quiz on the internet.  This was not a goofy buzzfeed quiz in which they ask what kind of chocolate you like and then tell you your life-expectancy (91 years, by the way, WOOT!).  No, this was a “real” test on some mental health website.  I took care with the answers, and gave the most honest responses I could arrive at.  The result: yeah, “High Risk for Compulsive Hoarding.”
(Photgraph: Jeffrey Vasseur's shelf in his office at Valdosta State University.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

St. Anthony, pray for us!

My aunt, now in her mid-eighties, is recovering from a fall.  A gust of wind blew her off a porch and numerous bones were broken.  Some time after this, she began asking her nieces and nephews what items in her house might we like after she was gone, or seriously down-sized, whichever might come first.

I had no real interest in participating in this exercise, not just because I couldn’t bear the thought of it (which I can’t) but because I myself have begun the process of down-sizing.  At least in theory I have so begun.
In any case, I want very little in the way of new material things unless they are related to skiing, or black shirts, neither of which one can ever have too many.

But my wife says, I have always loved that statue of the saint up in the apricot bedroom.  And I think, that thing weighs 50 pounds, how are we going to get it to Alaska?  That’s a discussion for later.  

The statue itself, by the way, features a tonsured and robed saint holding the Christ child.  I have never understood the logic of this, Christ predating said saint by a mere millennium, plus or minus a hundred years or so.   But, as I was told of many of my many theological questions as a Catholic schoolboy, “It is a divine mystery.”

So I tell my aunt, yes, we are interested in the statue.  “Oh,” she says, St “Anthony.”  We had always assumed it was St Francis of Assisi, but no, St Anthony, of Padua.  I should add here that we already have a family heirloom of this nature: a statue of the Infant of Prague, known by my son when he was young as The Infant of Prod.  Close enough.
“That came to us from Pat Delaney,” my aunt recalls.  “Mr. Delaney owned the diner a few doors north of the bakery [that my grandmother owned and above which they lived] and he was, like us, one of the few Catholics in town.  When Mr. Delaney decided to shutter the doors and move in with his sister in Chicago, he brought mother a package, wrapped in butcher paper.”  My grandmother said, “Well, I’ve seen you’ve brought me St Anthony.”  She didn’t know why she said it, as she couldn’t have known what it was in the butcher paper nor that Mr. Delaney had ever owned such a thing, but neither she, nor Pat Delaney could have been more shocked: she by what he had brought and he by what she had said.

St Anthony is the patron saint of lost objects, lost people, lost causes and “even lost spiritual goods.” I would like a clarification on this last item, but I see none forthcoming.  He is also the patron of no fewer than 29 other causes, among them, amputees, swineherds, and Tigua Indians, just to give you a sense of his range.

The original lost object associated with St Anthony was a book.  A book, pre-Gutenburg, was valuable enough, but this book was annotated by Anthony and the comments were invaluable to him. He prayed for its return and preached about it, and indeed, the thief, for it had been stolen, returned it.  A lost book, with annotations, is a lost cause to which I can relate.  If divine intervention was necessary, I understand completely.  Yes, whatever it takes.
After Anthony’s death his tongue was preserved in a reliquary (but, of course!) where his body was buried, a tribute to his oratory talents.  When his body was exhumed thirty years after his death it was found to have turned to dust.  The tongue, however, the tongue was said to be glistening with moisture (saint spit?).

So, someday, in the future, distant I hope, we will reunite St. Anthony with the Infant of Prod.  Meanwhile I know of more than a few lost causes and I am praying to him for a little intercession.