When I retired last June, I promised that I would stop buying books. Now I have always been a book person. And I have always bought books. But enough, enough books. When I cleared out my office at HGP I brought hundreds of books home. Some were part of my re-read program, some were to sell on Amazon and bookstores. Some I just wanted to keep. But I needed to say “no” to the purchase of new books. It wouldn’t be easy.
My first post retirement purchase came soon. In June I read an article in the Holocaust Museum’s newsletter about Ravensbruck. It was a review of the re-publication of a memoir by Gemma La Guardia Gluck, sister of Fiorello, NYC mayor. The review author, Rochelle Saidel, had written a book “The Women of Ravensbruck” and she maintains a website of the same title. Ravensbruck was the camp of our close friend Ragna Hamilton. (See other posts about Ragna and Ravensbruck.) Neither book was available in the Bucks library system. They were books I had to read. I ordered them. Several other books by Ravensbruck survivors would be added to my Amazon wish list (and later bought).
Various summer trips led to book purchases. I like to patronize local book stores when we travel and many titles about travel locations are not readily available at home. Better buy them and support independent local bookstores. “Henry F du Pont and Winterthur,” “Laurance Rockefeller: catalyst for conservation,” and “Frederick Billings: a life,” were all purchased on field trips.
And then there are reference books. Somehow, “Rodale’s 21st Century Herbal,” “Salt, Sugar, Smoke: how to preserve fruit, vegetables, meat and fish” and ” New Jersey Wildlife Viewing Guide” all found their way into my wish– buy list.
Sometimes it’s an unusual or special connection that sends me to buy a book. I read about the death of Jeff Hamilton. Couldn’t help but order his “Going Native,” an adventure living with pigmies in Africa. Jeff is part of the Jim Hamilton family, we lived near them in New Hope in the 70s – i.e. Hamilton’s Grill in Lambertville. In December, I also ordered his Gabrielle Hamilton’s cookbook, named after her East Village restaurant, “Prune.” We would have dinner there in March.
Christmas also led me to buy “The Perfect Scoop: ice creams, sorbets, gravitas, and sweet accompaniments,” by David Leebovitz. It was a title recommended by the teacher of my tea-ice cream class. Need I say more.
Sometimes I buy because I have Amazon credit. Local history and credit led to the purchase of “No Spot in this Far Land is More Immortalized: a history of Pennsylvania’s Washington Crossing Historic Park.” This was commissioned by a close friend, Bill Farcas. And I imagine I will buy the companion NJ Washington Crossing Park volume.
When I look back, I wonder, why did I buy, “Oak: the frame of civilization” (pretty good) or ” Moonshiners Daughter” (so, so). “Mrs Goodfellow: the story of America’s first cooking school” and “In Our Convent Days” both had local history connections. But do I need to own copies?
In Virginia, Diane and I discovered the Walton Museum. Yes, the Walton’s from 1970s TV. I purchased a biography of Earl Hammer by James Person and “Goodnight, John-Boy” by Hammer. I even ordered the DVD, “The Homecoming” — not available on Netflix.
I am still taken by children’s books and couldn’t resist “The Skippack School,” by Marguerite De Angeli — local story and great illustrations. Then there was the British Christmas classic by John Mansfield, “The Box of Delights.” Are these for the kids or me?
Several 1960s related titles caught my attention. “Yakima Tales: the hippie history of Takima, Oregon” and “The Old Weird America: the world of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes.” Haven’t read the former and the Dylan book is written in a music critic’s jargon that is near impossible for me to understand. But it’s about Dylan!
In January, I joined a Great Books Discussion group. For several months, the group has been reading short stories from “The Oxford Book of American Short Stories,” edited by Joyce Carol Oates. Actually this and several other books have been penny books ordered through Amazon. So basically you get the book for shipping. Still not sure how the seller makes money on these one cent offerings? June’s read is “The Lazarus Project” by Alexsandar Hemon. Just picked up a copy.
As I mentioned field trips frequently lead to book purchases. We got into a discussion with the Park Ranger at Washington Crossing Park (NJ) and discovered that she (Nancy Coperley) had written a book about the preacher George Whitfield, “Whitfield in Philadelphia, the great awakening of 1740.” She just happened to have a copy in the car that I could purchase. At Howell Farm (again NJ) we met docent- guide, former teacher, Larry Kidder, who took us on a tour of the area. He also wrote “Farming Pleasant Valley: 250 years of life in rural Hopewell Township, New Jersey.” Of course I now own a copy. More amazing was our tour guide for the Lower East Side in NYC. Eric Ferrara took the Pagliones, Diane and I on a great 2 hour walking tour — he customized the tour to fit our interest in food. And he has published several books. I actually ordered three — “A Guide to Gangsters, Murderers, and Weirdos of New York City’s Lower East Side,” “The Bowery: a history of grit, graft, and grandeur,” and “Lower East Side: then and now.” In the same vein, I ordered “The New York Nobody Knows: walking 6,000 miles in the city.” Must support local authors.
A few best sellers caught my attention and pocket book. Both were great reads — Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Coast trail” and ” The Boys in the Boat: nine Americans and their epic quest for gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.” I recommend both but not sure how I justify the purchases. Both should be available in the library.
And more local books. “Kensington Homstead” by Nic Esposito is the story of the Emerald Street Urban Farm. For several years, one of my HGP classes partnered with a class from CAPA (Philadelphia’s school for the creative and performing arts). We worked with the New Kensington CDC, in the area of Fishtown and Lower Kensington. We became familiar with community gardens.
And then I read about “On the Run: fugitive life in an American City” by Alice Goffman. It’s another book that we would have probably have used in University of Penn’s Philadelphia Partnership program that sponsored the urban-suburban teams like the HGP-CAPA partnership. In fact before I read the book I was contacted by Jon Amsterdam, who was a staff member of the Partnership program. Jon invited me to be part of a curriculum development project based on the book “On the Run.” Looking for an academic related project, I signed on. During our discussions about the “On the Run,” Jon mentioned his father Anthony G. Amsterdam, a leading Civil Rights lawyer. I had to order his “Minding the Law: how courts rely on storytelling, and how their stories change the ways we understand the law — and ourselves.” Haven’t read it yet but it sounds interesting.
A quick count. It seems I purchased about 36 books during my first year of retirement. Not exactly a resounding “no” to buying books. But I did sell about 200 to a Princeton bookstore and several dozen on Amazon. So in the end I sold more books than I bought. And I made more money on the books sold than the cost of books purchased.
Maybe “no” to buying books is unrealistic. Maybe I need to practice temperance. Buying fewer books. And selling more. A worthy goal for this year.