This would normally be a post about the family book business, on the family book business blog, but it is really a post about saying goodbye.
Have you read Rupert Graves’ Good-Bye to all That? I read it and loved it as a college students. Things change, our perceptions change, stiff upper lip, forward march, what, ho.
My mother and I have both hoarded beautiful children’s books. Either they would be a wonderland for our future generations or sell for a handsome price in the book biz. Win win.
The book business was a retirement pastime that made my parents a bit of money and offered some tax deductions for a good 15 or so years. But life is full of before and after moments. Some times you don’t recognize them, though.
In 2008 my grandma had a stroke that left her, thank God, able to enjoy the company of loved ones and tv, ambulatory, and able to do simple self care and housework tasks, but unable to speak, write, cook, take care of bills, or drive.
When something like that happens, you think to yourself, well THIS is how we will come back from this. We will make this accommodation, and this, and this, but these other things? There’s no reason they shouldn’t stay the same, right?
Over time each of us said a slow Good-Bye to All That. I gave up on miraculous rehab / brain cell regrowth for my grandma and resolved to reduce ‘swooping, just be with her at this time of immense change and grief, and support my parents as much as I could. I flew across country time after time as my parents themselves aged. Luckily they lived next door to her. They were giving her round the clock care in 12 hour shifts, and I got three fer one and comfortable accommodation in the Ocean View neighborhood I had called ‘Grammy and Grampy’s house’ since I could remember.
Eventually they gave up on the book business. Book sales had long since fallen away. But if I remember right, they did not have the brain space to even make the decision until after my grandma passed away 4 years after the stroke.
I jumped in and asked if they preferred to sell the books or give them to a kid. Dad said it was just doing the research and having the tools and acumen to know what would and would not sell, and my mom said it was just about managing the collection– keeping it moving, just like in a real public library, so that people can see what you have. I am a librarian with long bibliographic database experience. My husband is a programmer. My mother daughter and I culled hundreds and hundreds of books. Even so, we shipped 3 tons, I shit you not, 3 tons of books from coast to coast.
Isn’t this a laugh, in the age if the internet?
So my husband and I set off at a jaunty clip down the antiquarian bookselling path. My husband enjoyed the detective work aspect. We often worked together. I had a little desk in our garage and worked on the books daily, eagerly checking to see if any had sold and adding to inventory. I called it my favorite slot machine.
I loved my books. I still do. Life situations change. Perspectives change. The time it takes to sell does not match the payoff, in pleasure or in money. It’s been a loss pretty much since we bought the business, and not enough of a loss to save us any money on taxes.
My husband’s growing responsibilities at work meant he no longer helped. Our life situation has changed. So 5 years to the month since we had Christmas in July and joyously opened the 3 tons of book business we’d shipped to Wine Country, I am phasing it out several books at a time. My goal is to phase them out in time to not have to purchase a business license in 2019. I am still in debt $2500 on my business credit card.
I am pulling books under a certain price. Well, not all. I can’t let go of the Vietnam books or the Appalachiana or the Southern or Wine Country themed books. The military books sell well. The truly antiquarian books may be worth holding on to if I can protect their condition.
I am putting the children’s books, along with many learning homeschooling unschooling and parenting resources, out on a table out in our front yard with a sign marked “free / gratis” . It isn’t even worth doing paperbackswap.
The kids books go fast. There’s a school up the block, and families with children are constantly walking up and down our street. The others I take to the Friends of the Library, a few at a time so they won’t put two and two together and realize I am offloading useless business inventory on them.
When libraries weed, they may offer the weeded books for sale, but often staff don’t have time for that. In that case they rent a trash or recycling container. I can’t quite bring myself to do that yet.
People think books are made of gold. That is so heartwarming and sweet, isn’t it? But the value of anything is always what someone will pay for it.
Tye Gway La, my mom says- or that is the best approximation of what she says that I can manage. Too expensive, in Mandarin. The space in our garage. The removal of clutter in general. The time I need for other projects. The ability to be nimble in case I move.
So out they go, these lovely children’s books. With them go the nebulous, unarticulated, and unfulfilled dreams of countless hours sharing these books with the small children in our lives.
My baby is 15. None of my 3 want children. My nephew is too old, I think, to enjoy most of these, and this is not how he absorbs information. My baby and my nephew both go to school now so the homeschooling books are better shared than kept moldering in my garage.
I envisioned that even when my children were older, I would still be part of a vibrant intergenerational community in which I could share books with kids. And maybe I will. God willing, there will still be public libraries, or books in someone’s garage. But for now, Good-Bye to All That.