We made a visit to our local regional used book store last night.
If you suspect that I am a easy target for such a place, you are right. As The Ravishing Mrs. TB would happily tell you, one of my "failings" is that a love books - perhaps a little too much, judging from the bookshelves that push out from the sides of our walls.
I will also admit that I have come to love the used book store more than the (essentially) single remaining monolith that dominates the book store industry. Why? Because entering a used book store is always a sort of adventure: one never knows precisely what one will find there. Sometimes I can spend an hour and find nothing that I want to take home. Other times I can be there two minutes and be gone, or else suffer from a cornucopia of items I wish to acquire in which case I end up taking an hour to make a simple decision of what to buy. By entering such a place I always have the sense of adventure hanging just to the left of vision, barely visible in my sight.
As a matter of course in my wanderings I always take the opportunity to walk by "The Bargain Wall" - the last stop for books that have not sold. Here, books have been brutally slashed in their already low prices in order to do anything with them other than have to continue to maintain them on the shelf or send them to wherever the truly unsellable books go to live.
Looking at the books as I wander by, I am always struck both by the variety and the wording of the texts as I go by. "New York Bestseller" says one. "Recommended by X" says another. "As featured on A Really Important Television Show" says a third. All of them trumpeting their importance, their relevance, the reasons why you should be procuring their books.
And I then I pick one of them up. "$24.95" says the original cover which is now overlabeled with "$1.95". I flip over to the back to read about the author, who maybe I recognize - or maybe not. Maybe they went on to write five more books. Perhaps they never wrote another book and were never heard from again.
Do I begrudge them these prices and this exposure? Not at all. The fact that we live in a society where books can continue to exist and serve long after their authors are gone or have fallen from visibility is a miracle to me, a testimony to the power of literature and the existence of such things.
But was does give me pause as my eyes wander the shelves is what ultimate end is represented here.
Writing a book is hard work, even if one is skilled at it. It is hours of writing, then editing, then rewriting, then sighing as others criticize, then rewriting - and then comes the process of convincing someone else it is worthy enough to get published. And as many authors as not think that they are contributing something great to the world, something that will make a difference in the lives of others. "I have written the next world changing novel" or "I have spoken a great word" or "I have created a force of entertainment which will create a media empire" are thoughts which, if authors were honest, probably rolls through their heads more than they care to admit.
And here the book sits, marked down to $1.95. After having been marked down three times before.
The thing it makes think about as I return the book to the shelf is the reality of the effort of so much of our lives, that we put so much time and effort into those things that we think are of great importance only to realize that, too often, they are merely things which eventually get moved to the bargain shelf - and conversely, those things which we may consider of lesser importance, things that we moved out of the way to do the things of "great importance", are often the very things we should have spent our time on.
Will such a thing deter me from trying "greater things"? No more so than the $1.95 price of a book will deter me from buying it. But hopefully what it will do is give me a more moderate sense of the fact that the "great things" I often convince myself I am doing are not very far away from being essentially irrelevant and forgotten.
Except by bargain hunters and those who frequent second hand stores.