Well yesterday and today I started attacking some of my father's books that were still sitting in various bookshelves about the house. Now, I like books, quite a lot, but they have to be good books: ones that actually have some value to them. I mean, I know that is subjective, but they have to have either good pictures, up-to-date information, or good scholarship. The books my dad hoarded? Popular accounts of heroes from the 1930s, semi-sensational war tales, guides to mills of the Hudson River with just a scattering of small black and white pictures inside them, how-to books on taking good photos with few pictures in them (right, don't ask me how that works)—all this popular superficial stuff that was trash when it was new.
So last night I gathered them all up, from the remaining shelves in the piano room, and from the bookcase in the front hall over the phone. I threw them into the back of Larry the Volvo, where they sat a couple layers deep, and today I took them to the dump (sorry, recycling center). So much crap. As I was piling them in the swap shed I noticed that more than one of the books on Admiral Byrd (the famous Antarctic explorer) had Art Deco penguins on the covers; also, it came to me that 'Admiral Byrd and the Penguins' would be a fantastic name for a girl-band from the mid-60s. Or maybe a modern grrl-band, with a punk attitude and raucous sense of humor, preferably with a lead singer named Evelyn (Byrd's middle name, according to Wikipedia).
Anyhow they are now gone, though I am sniffling a bit again having handled them. And again, I apologize for the lack of before-and-after pictures, as I am still camera-less; I know how helpful they are, and, honestly, would love to see some myself. But they are gone now, and there are even more empty bookshelves.
I don't know what we are going to do with those empty bookshelves, though my mother has already claimed the one over the phone ('Go for it,' I told her). The ones by the piano were added in fairly recently, in response to his overflowing 'collection' of books; but they make it a tight fit around the piano. Now, the piano is in a bit of disrepair and isn't actually playable now, as one of the tuning pins sheared off and the dislocated string is affecting others; but I don't, actually, think it is a very difficult repair. And the thing is a Steinway grand, and otherwise a solid piece of work. I would love to be able to play it. Perhaps those bookshelves can just go themselves, and free up some space, since one does need a bit of room to play a piano.
All those crap books, though, got me thinking.
When my father was here he would sit and read those books on a regular basis. I don't for a moment think he read all of them, of course; I doubt there is enough time in a human lifetime. He had a lot of books.
I can't see that it ever made a difference, though. Let me explain.
When I read a book I am changed. I learn something. I acquire knowledge, or wisdom, or a new way of looking at the world; even if I disagree with what is said inside it, it makes me think. Even novels of a fluffy sort (though I tend not to read too many of those) alter me at least a little. But with my dad? As far as I could ever tell it just didn't. He read all the time, yet he learned nothing. He had all these books on, say, Charles Lindbergh, yet I never once heard him talk about him with any kind of expertise. You would think something would get in there. Well, if it did, it certainly never came out again.
Which isn't to say he wouldn't talk about these things. Oh he'd talk your ear off if given the chance—just it was always the same things, either the same stories of experiences you'd heard a hundred times already, or something very general about something he was interested in. If you asked him about, say, the Nazis, about whom he had many many books, on them and on WWII in general, he would just shake his head and say, 'They were very bad people.' I used to think it was because they were just so horrible he didn't want to go into detail, but now I don't know. I am realizing this makes him sound very, I don't know, slow, or something; but I wouldn't say he was. At least I always thought him fairly intelligent.
But he just couldn't change.
Nowadays, he is in a nursing home up the street. My mother brings him his Aviation magazine, and he sits there with his reading glasses on, and she flips the pages for him. From the outside it certainly looks like he is reading. But he isn't, and I know he cannot be, since after the stroke there is little left of his brain, and even before the stroke he was beginning to suffer some dementia.
Strange how so much of him was just a pattern. I don't think he has changed all that much.