Sunday, June 16, 2013
"But I've done that already, or didn't you know, love?"
Where I am at, in terms of my personal library just now is not a matter of shedding books I've never read or will never read. That's largely already happened, these past few of years. (Not that house isn't still full of unread books, I've just tried to be a teensy bit more realistic about my actual interests in recent days. No more physics, for example, even the "easy" stuff. Well beyond me, alas.) I'm now in the much more complicated business of letting go of books I've read, books I liked, books I will never read again. Specifically this weekend, I'm letting go of the Gay.
It will be hard to explain to anyone under the age of forty, I should think, not just how much our GLBTQ literature meant to us, how covetous we all were of it, how nearly every title discovered and treasured up seemed a bulwark against siege, disease, famine. We built our safe places of books. I did, anyway, and I know others did as well. There was a time, and not all that long ago really, when the closest many of us were able to get to a sense of community was in our books. And when those of us lucky enough to escape wherever we were from and get to the company of our kind, when we finally arrived in OZ, it was our books that taught us how to be there, our books that reminded us where we had been, where we truly came from, and of the fate we had changed. Once we arrived in those magical cities: New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, celebrated in our literature, we then wanted to to read and to share the new narratives of our new lives. And when the shadow of death passed over those places and took from so many of us the promise of those bright cities on the hill, our books, our writers were there to grieve with us, to memorialize the fallen, to record our survival and eventually, the beginnings of our acceptance into the new world we were even then making.
If that all now sounds a bit grandiose to younger readers, that is simply a measure of the success of the Movement, and the books, that got us to this new day.
The responsibility to preserve the past, to collect and archive, for many of us, myself included, survived the establishment of legitimate community institutions dedicated specifically to that purpose. At any rate, our collections did. My library did. Meanwhile our literature and history move along and what I kept, at least in my library, often as not is now redundant, cumbersome and just collecting dust. I seem to have no need of it anymore. Perhaps somebody else does.
I've kept the books written by my friends. I've kept the signed copies, most of them, certainly most of the inscribed books. I've kept those to which I may yet turn again for comfort, entertainment, reference or a laugh. I've kept those books by Gide and by Mishima, by Firbank, and the novels of Michel Tournier and the stories of Denton Welch, and I'm keeping the first edition of The Berlin Stories given to me by the generous friend of a friend. It's not as if I won't always have Quentin Crisp among my books, or Wilde, or Robert Liddell. (I'd bet there will be someone reading this who won't know at least one of these names. I may introduce a new reader to a great gay book from my library yet.)
What's going are mostly novels. Some of the authors, a regrettably large number I suspect, didn't live to see the long careers promised by their first, or second or even third book. Some of the books going represent a sadder time when any gay character, however tragic, however unrealistic or unpleasant, nevertheless represented a rare glimpse into the possibility of some existence, somewhere. Not my job anymore, I've decided, to carry that unhappiness any further forward. A lot of these novels were excellent reading; well written, moving, funny, timely and complex. I certainly was glad of them when I read them, but I don't need to read them again, or keep them with me any more. The vast majority of the books I'm getting rid of now are books, novels, history, travel, biography that filled in the story for me before I had a story of my own, a history, a place however modest in the history of our community and time. I don't dislike most of these books, I simply don't need them anymore.
As I've said, my hope is that somebody else will.
My boss and friend, M., is contributing some of his library as well to a sale in the bookstore's lobby, to mark Pride Month. We going to try the lot at one negligible, uniformly low price and see if anyone buys any of it. There will be very real bargains, and not a few treasures, I should think, if the right customers happen by. What we don't sell, we'll donate. One way and another, none of these books are destined for scrap.
For me now this is just a practical necessity. There are too many books in this house. I won't live forever. It's time.
Last call. Thank you all for coming, you don't have to go, my friends, but you can't stay here.