About “Library”

I had always managed my To Read list very cleanly: I simply bought every book I thought I might ever want to read. I rarely left a bookstore without an acquisition. My typical souvenir from a trip was a new book with the local store’s bookmark tucked inside. Library sales, used book stores, garage sales: all were my haunts. In the house, we refurbished and painted bookshelves — and bookshelves. We moved these books and their shelves many, many times: to college, from dorm to apartment to apartment, from house to house. I even bought books about reading, like Sven Birkerts’s “The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age,” which, at the beginning of chapter 8, “Into the Electronic Millenium,” sadly recounts the decision of one professor to relieve himself of his huge personal library in favor of digital texts. (Click here to read the book or here to read the article that turned into that chapter.)

I don’t recall if it was Birkerts or parenthood, but eventually I realized that not only was I never going to read all these books — many of them didn’t even seem particularly interesting any longer, perhaps because they had stared me down with their patient but demanding gaze for so many years — but that owning them was turning into a physical, and even partially psychological, burden.

About a decade ago, I took half of my collection to Barnes and Noble and sold them to a very unenthusiastic clerk for perhaps 5% of what I had paid for them. (Despite their personal value, in general books are not good financial investments.) Last year, I interpreted my passage across the 40-year mile marker as an excuse to have a classic mid-life crisis. Rather than the predictable, and boring, splurges that normally are associated with these crises, I thought that it would be more interesting to invert the impulse and clean out my physical world with a healthy application of minimalism. I gave nearly all the rest of my books to the local library, to a similarly disinterested clerk. All my CDs? Thrift store. Old computers? eBay. I have cleared out my personal possessions (as distinguished from those of our family, which continue to enjoy an abundance that can only be explained with the phrase “two boys”) so that, were I to self-combust next week, the scorched floorboards near the coffee maker would serve as the most prominent reminder of my absence. This is what inspired “Library.”

Andy’s photograph sets a similar mood. Here’s his description:

As I’ve previously mentioned, The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is an amazing restoration of a majestic building that had fallen into disrepair.

One Saturday afternoon during the fall, my wife and I were fortunate enough to get a complete tour of Building 50 from Ray Minervini of the Minervini Group. Ray was very generous with his time and we were shown every nook and cranny, from the top of the red spires to the haunting tunnels. As a resident of Building 50, I had only seen the completed areas of the complex, but during our tour Ray offered to take us back in time to show us how the building had looked prior to restoration. This photo of the North Wing of Building 50 was taken in November 2010 shortly before being reclaimed and restored.

North Wing Section of Building 50, Grand Traverse Commons, Traverse City, MI. AS

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