--In time, that is. The weekend could not have been lovelier—not too hot, not too cold, sunny and clear. Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the holiday weekend, all sunny and glorious, meant long days at work, conversations with interesting people, and quiet, tired evenings at home. One new resident described his first 4th of July fireworks in Northport with the words “as good as anything I’ve seen on the Mall.” He meant the Mall in Washington, D.C. A pretty high compliment.
Sunday afternoon at the Dog Ears Books and Painted Horse Gallery space included a free live concert by the Weatherheads from Grand Rapids--a real treat for bookseller, browsers and customers--and a visit from gallery dogs Dusty and Shane, the latter (5 months old) being one of Sarah’s new favorite playmates.
Between book sales, conversations and puppy lessons I started to think ahead to being on the radio Wednesday morning (a little after 8:30 a.m.), talking with Ron Jolly on WTCM 580 AM.
And yet, somehow, sometime during the weekend I stole a few moments to dip into some fascinating books of the past, too.
Augustine Sirrell’s Obiter Dicta (Second Series, so presumably there was a first) is a set of essays on topics related to books and literature. Besides disquisitions on Milton, Pope, Johnson, Burke, Lamb (Charles, of course, an old favorite of mine) and Emerson, the author muses on the subject of book-buying, leading off with the statement that sensible book purchasers will look to the secondhand shops, as all good new books, if worth anything at all, “one day will be second-hand.” Having captured this bookseller’s attention, Mr. Sirrell goes on to ask whether there is “any substance in the plaint that nobody now buys books, meaning thereby second-hand books?” I was interested to see that this question--I’ve heard the claim “No one reads books any more” since my first summer as a bookseller, back in 1993, always made by people who are readers and book buyers--has been around at least since 1887. Another modern complaint, this one made by bargain-hunting book collectors, is that the Internet has done too good a job educating country booksellers, so I was intrigued by a similar complaint (the author’s own) from the late 19th century:
The enormous increase of booksellers’ catalogues and their wide circulation amongst the trade has already produced a hateful uniformity of prices. Go where you will it is all the same to the odd sixpence. Time was when you could map out the country for yourself with some hopefulness of plunder. …Those days are over.
Oh, boo-hoo! How sad that struggling those provincial booksellers’ shops can no longer be “plundered” by the canny urban visitor!
The library book sale was Saturday morning in Northport, and I picked up a couple of volumes no doubt being de-acquisitioned because the information is now accessible online. (I could look for it online, too, but enjoy turning pages.) One is Early Ohio Settlers, the other Ohio Cemetery Records. My father’s family came from Ohio, so looking up family names was my first move; the second, less self-interested, was to read through tombstone inscriptions. Here is one of my favorites:
Make use of present time
Because you must
Take up your lodging
Shortly in the dust.
There’s good, plain, blunt speaking! Or engraving. Graving? Engraving gravestones? Another:
So fades the lovely, blooming flower,
Frail smiling solace of an hour;
So soon our transient comforts fly,
And pleasure only blooms to die.
The anonymous authors of these two verses looked at identical evidence, it seems, and drew opposite conclusions. Both stress the brevity of life, but the second writer would have us, because life is short, not attach ourselves to it, while the first advises us rather to gather rosebuds while we may. Make the most or the least of it? Does one make a choice to see living in one light or the other, or do our temperaments decide for us? I would argue with the claim that “pleasure only blooms to die.” The “lovely, blooming flower” does not bloom only for the sake of blooming but for the sake of seeds produced, future plants, future flowers—a whole, wonderful continuity of which each stage is, in its turn, fully present.
One of the best ways I know to “make use of present time” in summer is to sit quietly outdoors in the evening, watching insects dance in the last sunlight, listening to the birds’ songs grow sleepy as light seeps away. There is the song sparrow! Not singing “to die” but because it is alive, now!