"My Father's Library"
June 1, 2010 8:08 PM   Subscribe

I cried.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:23 PM on June 1, 2010

. for the loss of a library. I, too, like TooFewShoes, cried. :(
posted by KoPi_42 at 8:33 PM on June 1, 2010

Great story. More by Finn-Olaf Jones.
posted by stbalbach at 8:43 PM on June 1, 2010

God, the rage. How...just god. I would be crushed and depressed.
posted by aclevername at 8:48 PM on June 1, 2010

Yeah, but what an extraordinary place to grow up.
posted by bystander at 8:53 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

When the old guy finally physically dies, the accountant and the lawyer should be smothered to death with his body. God, what parasites. They should at the very least be stockaded every day for a year in front of the courthouse with "Wretched piece of shit" over their heads.
posted by notsnot at 8:55 PM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

I thought stolen bicycles were the saddest thing. I was wrong.
posted by anshuman at 9:02 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's nothing special about my book collection -- some nice older hardcovers, nothing rare or valuable -- but if I had a stroke tomorrow, it would be a huge comfort to me to be surrounded by my 800 books during my recovery (assuming I could still read). If I had a collection like the author's father, and I got out of the hospital to find out it had been sold off while I was incapacitated...

What a shitty fucking thing to do to someone.
posted by twirlip at 9:13 PM on June 1, 2010

This is from five years ago? Not a complaint by any means, just an observation.

As someone who's been known to haunt used bookstores in the metro area, I'd be...curious...to know if the bookdealers in the article are local. I don't expect an answer, of course, and I'm really not in the market for first editions or anything expensive...but I still kind of wonder.
posted by gimonca at 9:19 PM on June 1, 2010

Incredible story. It reminds me of my father, who ran a printing business and two 'antiquarium' bookstores. I don't know that the bookstores made any money. He'd regularly and enthusiastically hand people books he thought they'd enjoy, for free. His first love was arguing about books - their meaning, their qualities and faults, what influenced them and whether they were "important" or "good" or any other number of divisions of meaning - while drinking Turkish coffee with a bunch of bookstore regulars - from students to pensioners. (His second love was fishing.)

I got nauseous from thinking about how much more knowledgeable I'd be today about myriad subjects if I'd just sat there after school and weekends and let the opinions flow into my mind. But I was a kid. By the time I was old enough to appreciate this even a little, the war had begun and all the shops closed.

We burnt a lot of books to keep warm, but none with much literary value. We'd have gone cold before that happened. But I think the burning of any books was difficult for my father. The partial destruction of the shops from shelling and small fires, water leakage and mice - none of which could be prevented effectively during the war - meant many fine books were lost. When I had the opportunity to come to America, while the war was still on, the bookstores and stock were left to relatives, who promised to save them until I could return. Instead, they sold them off immediately and kept all the money.

In a way, they did me a favor. I don't have to worry about these books. I don't have to wonder - had I received the money - if I'd sold my birthright for a pittance. I could "let go" of my language and become American (the books were mainly in Serbo-Croatian.) I like to think those books are now the cornerstones of many embryonic libraries around Sarajevo; my father would have liked that. He raised me to be strong and think for myself, so I'm proud of the nice library which I've created for myself. Many fine discoveries, and sometimes - though it's egotistical to say so - I stare at my collection and feel good about its diversity and depth.

That said, I don't speak to those relatives anymore.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:45 PM on June 1, 2010 [33 favorites]

He settled????

He should have castrated those pricks.
posted by orthogonality at 10:30 PM on June 1, 2010

He should have castrated those pricks.

Pun intended?
posted by twirlip at 10:38 PM on June 1, 2010

I just got back from looking at my books for about an hour. That's right before posting.
posted by cmoj at 10:43 PM on June 1, 2010

Obituary of Waring Jones.
posted by verstegan at 1:16 AM on June 2, 2010

Remarkably despicable. I was hoping for some bloody, gory retribtuion.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:20 AM on June 2, 2010

The nerve of these guys. I am off to read a book.
posted by ersatz at 3:42 AM on June 2, 2010

A lifetime of written wisdom has gently settled like silt on some distant ocean bed, and somewhere within, the long conversation between man and books continues, though ever quieter. Love disappears, wealth disappears, desire disappears. But good books stay absorbed in the soul, and a soul, if educated, endures. Or at least that's what some pretty good books say.

When my own well-read grandfather reached the end of his life, he was lost in an Alzheimer's fog. I would go to visit him, and some days he didn't know who I was, who he was, where he was or what year it was, but I could still feed him a first line -- "The boy stood on the burning deck," or "It is an ancient mariner," and he would reel out the entire poem word for word.

There is an Irish saying that in the end everything will perish, but music and love will endure. I often think about how the music of all that verse stayed with him until the very end.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:33 AM on June 2, 2010 [13 favorites]

I know that there are much bigger injustices in the world than what these scumbags did, but stories like this still bring home how evil some human beings can be.

I need to go read about Electron Boy again to remind myself how good other human beings can be.
posted by usonian at 6:15 AM on June 2, 2010

It's funny how a collection can become a part of a person. I have (or had) a rather large art collection in my modest house. I plan to be vacating the modest house here soon for the love of a woman (strange thing, that) and as a lot of my art is not of the easily transportable sort, I called a few collectors to come in and see if there was anything they would want to buy. To a person, I found them rabid, salivating wolves, not at all afraid to comment on the deaths or possible future deaths of some of the artists, all of whom I consider very close friends. "I should buy this now before he dies next year and it's worth double" was an actual quote. Sad I had even considered selling off the souls of my friends in such a manner to such people, I called a local museum and told them to come get what they want, gratis. Several curators showed up, curious and giddy. The first time they set foot in my house they were like kids in a candy shop, literally giggling and smiling. They seemed amazed that I would part with the work at all, much less give it away. After a few weeks of thinking, photographing and going through various committee meetings, they picked out a large haul of work, and came to retrieve it. I stood by, photographing the work that had stood in my house for years now, work that all had memories and stories and that were now leaving my modest life for the great storage rooms of the museum. It broke my heart at the time, and in fact, every time I walk by the places where they stood or hung, I feel sad, but nothing can match the joy of sending the pictures of all those works, mid packing and telling the collectors that the works now belonged to the people of this fair state, and I would not be accepting their offers. So I hope that in my old age, when the Alzheimer's that seems to run in my family like a dark river has finally taken its toll on me that it will leave at least the memory of this art and the artists who created it and that like my grandfather and his flowers, or this man in his books, I can be alone with it at the end.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:37 AM on June 2, 2010 [19 favorites]

My grandfather’s private book collection was as vast as it was worthless. It was that way on purpose-he was the curator of a university’s special collections, and he wanted to avoid any conflict of interest. He picked up anything else that struck his fancy: 700 books published in the year 1900 (originally meant for an exposition in the year 2000); books with family member’s names in the titles (my grandmother had two full bookshelves of Jane books); books on squirrel hunting, women’s tumbling, rural life in southern Indiana, or anything else that might strike his fancy. There were a number of vanity books dedicated to the life of the author’s dead family member, about all of their virtues and deeds. I don’t think any of them were worth more than $5.

My grandmother ended up selling off what was left of the collection around ten years ago; it’d been over ten years since my grandfather’s death, and she was trying to sell her house. My mother volunteered me to help get the books in shape; dust them off and get them in some sort of discernable order. That ended up taking the entire summer-both my grandmother and I would stop to read a bit of each one. My payment was a shelf worth of the books at the end of the summer- I took with me the complete Eleanor collection, a couple of old adventure novels, and a nineteenth century get-rich-quick scheme involving chickens. Larry McMurtry ended up buying the rest and sending them down to Texas (the poor kid from UPS was expecting to pick up one box-there were 300).

I didn’t know my grandfather very well-he died when I was four. My knowledge of him comes almost completely from that book collection-a man with a vast array of interests and a quirky sense of humor. I’m glad the collection lasted long enough for me to discover it.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:45 AM on June 2, 2010 [8 favorites]

1f2frfbf, you are a mensch.
posted by jokeefe at 7:59 AM on June 2, 2010

dinty_moore, that's how I want to go.
posted by Leon at 8:51 AM on June 2, 2010

A beautiful, touching, tragic story. I think many of us are or were touched by the things our parents or grandparents collected.

I never really knew either of my grandfathers, both of whom were printers at R R Donnelley in Chicago, though unknown to each other before his son met his daughter after WWII. Both collected books that intrigued them, and as a child I was surrounded by some of the drips and drops that had accreted to the seventh child of Ludwig and the fourth child of Raymond.

Raymond was by far the more accomplished collector of the two—through Ludwig, I have some 1880s/1890s collected works of Heinrich Heine and Wilhelm Busch, who both were sons of Düsseldorf, as Ludwig was before he came to America and became Louis.

Raymond collected everything, and I mean everything, associated with printing from early Graphlex cameras to thousands of pounds of discarded lead type (I knew what ems & ens were before I could read), and books, books, books. He was rabid about first editions. Unlike Finn-Olaf's story, the thieves in the night weren't booksellers, lawyers, & accountants, but from within the family. Ray was a prodigious alcoholic--in fact, my one persistent memory of Grandpa Ray was being in his dimly lit cellar, bookshelves crammed with all of his collectibles & books, and at age 4 or 5, enjoying a small glass of ale paired with a slice of chocolate cake, and a draw from his cheroot. When discovered, my mother would berate him--my grandmother had already given up on him and although they never divorced, they lived apart.

Raymond died when I was almost 6—my mother got a call that Ray had died and she wept. He was not quite 60 and she not yet 35. They went over to the house to find it looted, but in a curious way, as if the looter knew the precise value of everything in the house and who took only the most valuable. But how many burglars know the value of first edition books to be able to pick those out of massive amounts of books leaving thousands of others behind? They also found based on the coroner's exam, that Ray had not just died, but had been so for at least three days. His eldest son, knowing that Ray possessed neither will nor inventory, had found him and only told his brother and sisters several days after picking over the remains.

My mother never wanted anything from the house and my grandmother's view was "good riddance." My uncle never prospered from the loot—much of the worth was only in Ray's scheming imagination—and although the eldest son, he was already a family pariah, so it didn't really change anyone's relationship with him.

The best story from the picked-over bones of the first editions was that my mom had remembered a first edition of a collected works of Alexander Pope, signed & dated by the poet & satirist himself. She remebered Ray reading Pope's Iliad to her & that he had promised to leave her the collection. That was the one thing she wanted & that she got her brother to give her. Ray had had the set rebound by an antiquarian. Uncle would always talk about how much the set was worth, signed & all, and that he had given that "freely" to her. The books were in a cubby in our attic, which served as a bedroom for my older brother & a study room for him & me as we were outgrowing the 2 bedroom bungalow.

I was proud of those books, just having them was something special to me, a connection with my grandpa & the beer and cake and tobacco smell that seemed to even permeate the air whenever I would open one & read. So, in 4th grade, I was part of a group in my elementary school that I guess was Future Nerds of America, because our motto was "We never guess! We look it up!" (How I avoided becoming a librarian is a cruel twist of fate, I guess.) So, obsessed with the collected works of Alexander Pope and the assured rich fate that awaited us upon selling them to a First Edition Book Worm, I looked up everything I could on Pope in those pre-internet, card catalog, train trip to Chicago for the exhaustive collections, amassing fact after fact after fact, birth place and date, circumstances and date of death...but WAIT!!! How could Al Pope have signed these valuable first editions a FULL TEN YEARS AFTER his death?????

My mom found out that the antiquarian had botched the binding in destroying the original signature page and ham-fistedly forged the signature and "typo'd" the date. Ray never noticed. And mom never told Uncle, who went to his grave thinking he'd given her a priceless collection, one that he still yearned for.
posted by beelzbubba at 9:25 AM on June 2, 2010 [9 favorites]

Those parasites should've just taken out the poor guy's heart and gotten it over with. I gasp I at the emptiness he felt upon coming out of his stroke and finding all his books gone. There's got to be a place in hell for lawyers and parasites, like those rare book dealers. But honestly where was his son?? Shouldn't he have been defending his fathers library loaded for bear?

Realize that's easier said then done and hindsight is 20/20, but still.....

posted by Skygazer at 11:25 AM on June 4, 2010

Great story Beelzbubba. Also, heartbreaking, but at least you have the memory of your grandfather in that cellar and the chocolate cake and the ale and Cheerot. Awesome. Really the memories are everything. The physical stuff just talisman's and mediums for that.

Which is why, I'm founding a Pacifist's Anti-Ebook Anarchist Collective.

Currently accepting new members. Free explosives training seminar included.

posted by Skygazer at 11:38 AM on June 4, 2010

I agree, Skygazer. My family never thought of either grandfather's collection as monetary gain, and as a result, I grew up with a love of books and of words that has been passed on to another generation, along with stories & memories told to me by my father about his parents and my mother about hers.
posted by beelzbubba at 2:32 PM on June 4, 2010

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