Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Believing in Bound Books--and Giving Them Away

In the next day or two, I plan to join Kelli's cool effort to celebrate National Poetry month. Deciding on which of my books to give away is easy, since I only have my chapbook. But how to choose the other book to give away? There are so many wonderful possibilities. Will I choose Denise Duhamel's Kinky, or is that too Barbie focused? Will I choose a small press book, thus supporting those worthy efforts? Will I choose one of my old feminist favorites, like Marge Piercy's The Moon is Always Female? I just might. That was one of the first volumes of poetry I ever bought, and I read it fiercely and ferociously throughout my undergraduate years, underlining and cracking the spine and taking it everywhere.

When you only have one volume of poetry in your collection, it's easy to love it fiercely and often.

Of course I can't give away that copy. Let me wander away for a minute.

I am SO happy. That book is still in print. I wonder why so many poetry books published by mainstream publishers have gone out of print, but this one has not. I have to assume it's because the book is still making money for the publisher.

So, in a day or two, I'll make the final decisions and join Kelli's celebration. But today, I just had to log an encounter from yesterday.

My office is on a corridor which opens to a central location, where several times a week we have an administrative assistant sitting at the desk. Once upon a time, we did our tutoring in that space, so we still have a bookcase left over from those days. We have a much better tutoring center now, but getting someone to move furniture requires a celestial act, so the bookcase has stayed behind. When publishers send me books, I'll add them to the shelves. I also put old editions of textbooks there, the ones I don't use anymore, but don't have room for on the shelves in my office. They're worth nothing: I don't teach out of them anymore, but I can't bear to throw them away, and since they're older editions, no one will buy them.

Yesterday, I noticed a student standing by the bookcase reading the Michael Meyer's The Bedford Introduction to Literature. I said, "It's so good to see someone reading."

The student said, "I love this book. It's got such great poetry in it." Keep in mind that this was not my student; she had no reason to know that professing admiration for poetry is a sure way to impress me.

I asked, "Would you like to borrow it?"

The student said, "Oh, no. I go online to get poems. I come here to read poems, and then I go online to see what I can find. I love this Maya Angelou poem."

We chatted some more, and I said, "Why don't you just take that book and keep it?"

She said, "Oh, no, that's alright." But her hands lingered on the pages.

I insisted. I wanted to believe that I saw a longing for poems and a bound book. And even if I didn't see that longing, I wanted to believe that the book would find a good home. I wanted to believe that the student would read the wide selection of poetry in the book to expand her horizons beyond Maya Angelou (not that there's anything wrong with Maya Angelou--it's just that the poetry world is so much larger than one writer).

I want to believe there's still space in our world for books, the old-fashioned bound kind. And I want to give them away, because my bookcase space seems to shrink with each passing year.


Dale said...

Oh, of course there will always be books! crappy throwaway books and reference books may vanish, but close-to-the-heart books, never.

sunt_lacrimae_rerum said...

Thank you so much for participating in this wonderful Poetry Month idea.

I am not a poet but I am a traditional "avid reader" and I have a poetry blog.

Thank you for your consideration.