(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Clearing Off the Old Book Shelves

We just did a renovation project at our house -- it's been long overdue, and with our minimalistic approach to filling up a particular room (read:  we got rid of some bookshelves), we also have had to pare down the books that we've collected over the years.  I suppose one day historians will look back at paper and books and marvel how we learned, but for many books are a really personal, special thing.  Us included.

Sure, Kindles and iPads and such are green, which I'm sure is good, rain forests get preserved, etc., but there is something different about curling up with a good book in a big chair on a very cold day, cup of tea or coffee nearby, slowing down time and enjoying learning something.  Our books, I suppose, reveal the depths of our knowledge and values, and, once read, serve as reminders of something we learned or as totem, perhaps, of how accomplished we are (or not, depending on what's on the shelves).

At any rate, I have, over the years, donated books to our local book sale (without bothering to get a receipt or take a tax deduction, either -- it's not worth the trouble) as a means to help our library and, also to reduce the collection, so to speak.  Over the past week we donated over one hundred books, including, among others, the U.S. military historical novels of Jeffrey Shaara, plays that I read in college, historical photography books of Philadelphia, Ted Williams "The Art of Hitting .300," at least one copy of "A Catcher in the Rye," although few marvel about why J.D. Salinger was a recluse the way they once did say 25 years ago, the obscure Michael Chabon novel about something that happened in the 9th century (I confess I didn't get through it), some business-related books about Human Resources cultures (I confess that some of these I didn't get to reading), some classics from way back when, including Anthony Trollope's "The Way We Live Now," which foretold of the Bernie Madoff phenomenon about 125 years before it happened, and many others.

What also is a reflection of us is what we couldn't bear to part with -- everything by Richard Russo (if you say "who," buy a copy of "Empire Falls" and enjoy it), Stephen Sears wonderful histories of Civil War battles, and some very nice biographies of baseball greats that the North Carolina publishing house McFarland publishes -- among them, bookies on Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove and Hack Wilson.   I also kept books that people gave me, among them Bill Simmons' hilarious book on basketball, and books that friends wrote -- include a few thrillers that a college friend penned within the past ten years.  One of my favorites is an old copy of Lawrence S. Ritter's classic baseball book, "The Glory of Their Times."  Ritter, best known as a professor of money and banking at NYU, drove an old station wagon around the U.S. in the mid-1960's and interviewed baseball players from the turn of the 20th century.  My long-since-deceased father bought it for me when I was a young teenager, and I read it, spellbound and with great reverence.  And, there it sits, on a bookshelf, dog-eared but as a symbol of all that is right about childhood, father-son relationships and our national pastime.

I've kept Douglas Southall Freeman's four volumes on Robert E. Lee -- they won him the Pulitzer Prize and when I had a long train commute, I read every one of them, wanting to know what made Lee tick, compelled to fight as an underdog and for two years more after he lost at Gettysburg.   Those serve as a reminder as to what might have been had he headed up the Union Army when Lincoln and General-in-Chief Winfield Scott asked and for a long commute to a job whose lustre had faded about at the time that I had begun my reading.  Likewise, Robert Caro's amazing books on Lyndon Johnson survived the cut -- if you want to get an historical MRI as to how a master politician and legislative genius got head, these are the books for you.

It was a cold, overcast day, it needed to be done, and I had the energy to do it.  When you make up your mind to de-clutter, you just go ahead and do it and get a rush that you are making things simpler.  But then you slow down, reading an inscription of a blank journal that a friend from your graduate school days gave you, copies of First Day covers that you used to collect, programs from old games.  And you realize how fast time moves, what you've done, where you've been, and what you've accomplished.

All while slowing down time, very much so, to reflect on life, to reflect on your learning, and to reflect on the world around you.  We are not necessarily what we eat, with whom we associate or what we read.  But we are a reflection of all teachings, and books are a rich part of where we've gone, who we are, and where we've been.

And it was good to slow down time, at least for a while.  The end of the year -- and vacation days -- do that.

And that's a good feeling.


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