Birney Imes: Lovers of books

October 9, 2010 10:23:00 PM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


Friday night in the center court of Leigh Mall, amid the clutter of empty whiskey boxes and makeshift bookshelves, a score of readers picked through piles of hand-me-downs. 


Friends of the Library volunteer Doug Blount explained the boxes: "We have a lot of drinkers." 


And the Friends has a lot of books. Twice a year library volunteers haul truckloads of donated and decommissioned library books to the mall where they sell them for little more than a tune. Mainly, the inventory is a predictable assortment of best sellers, self-improvement guides, reference and cookbooks, and literature. 


But there are oddities like "The Golden Key to Happiness, Words of Guidance and Wisdom," a small, red clothbound volume filled with zen-like advice about living. I''m a sucker for these types of books, with their easily digestible bits of wisdom that help you, to use the author''s words, "polish your inner being to its fullest radiance." 


The author, Masami Saionji, is descended from a Japanese royal family, was educated in this country and wrote an advice column for a Japanese magazine. 


Be content with who you are, Ms. Saionji writes. And stop worrying: 


"Why do only human beings live in constant worry? Animals and plants don''t worry at all. We never see a dog striving to be a lion; we never hear about a chrysanthemum impatient to become a rose. All things in the natural world live to accomplish the missions that are given to them and live in full contentment with what they are." 


An Asian man wearing an orange University of Illinois T-shirt, obviously not content with his knowledge of European history, approached the cashier carrying three books that together were close to a foot thick: "A History of Europe," "Medieval History" and "The Columbia History of the World." That''s a lot of history for $6. 


Ruiyuan Mu is an electrical engineering student at Mississippi State University. He''s from Beijing, and 2-1/2 years ago earned his masters in physics at MSU. He plans to earn a PhD. at MSU -- his thesis will be on wireless antennas -- and he plans to be back in China in four or five years. 


Earlier that day, a friend had alarmed me with talk of the cancer causing radiation thought to be put off by cell phones and computer screens (the old cathode ray monitors). I considered asking Mr. Mu about it, then thought better of it. A topic for future examination. 


Julie and Matt Fondren live in Petal; Matt''s parents, Tommy and Carolyn Fondren, live in Northhaven Woods. Julie and Matt, both avid readers and book collectors, plan their visits to Columbus to coordinate with the book sale. 


When I ran into them, it was Julie and Matt''s second trip that day to the sale. Matt was considering a collection of John Steinbeck short stories and Julie had found "Seaside" by Terry Blackstock. 


Mention of Steinbeck reminded me of something I''d heard earlier in the week: This year is the 50th anniversary of the road trip that resulted in "Travels with Charley," the account of Steinbeck''s 10,000-mile-long journey across America with his French standard poodle. Some fellow is retracing their tracks. 


In 1960 Steinbeck, 58, had a weak heart and, thinking he didn''t have much longer to live, decided to cross America one more time. As it turned out, he lived eight more years and took at least one more trip, in 1962 to Stockholm to collect the Nobel Prize for literature. 


I snagged "The Life Treasury of American Folklore." The Greeks have their mythology; we have our folk heroes in the likes of John Henry, Casey Jones and Longfellow''s Evangeline. Already I''ve read about Johnny Appleseed, a saint-like figure who preferred going barefooted and Mike Fink, the last keelboatman, who was anything but saintly. Wouldn''t the constellations be easier to remember if they were named for these folks? 


While I suppose they are an inevitable part of our future, I''ve yet to use the Kindle or the iBook. ("They''re better than you would think they are, but I like books better," a young reader told me.) For me, there is something irresistible about the tactile experience of taking a book from the shelf, looking at its cover and spine, then gently turning it over and reading the blurbs on back. 


There is something undeniably satisfying about these odd, old-fashioned and oftentimes beautiful constructs of paper you can hold in your hand, these portals to faraway places, intimate encounters with brilliant minds. They are treasure chests patiently waiting to be opened, happy to divulge their secrets. 


Birney Imes is the publisher of The Commercial Dispatch. E-mail him at [email protected]

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.