Last week I finished reading a book, The Gentle Madness, that outlined the lives of some of the great book collectors and personal libraries assembled over the last five hundred years. It also covered how many of those libraries were broken up over time – sold off in toto or in part, lost to fire, stolen, gifted to public institutions, or released back into the wild through glittering auctions. These were the “important” libraries of history – the first printed books, manuscripts on velum, hand-copied tracts carefully illuminated by monks in the Middle Ages – the incredibly rare and the magnificently expensive. These were the libraries of royal dukes and titans of the industrial age.
It makes me extraordinarily happy that such collectors and such libraries even exist. Even so, I walk away from that read feeling just a little bit sad – mostly because, unless there’s a multi-state lottery jackpot in my future I’ll never be able to possess books like that. I’ll never have the opportunity to walk into a room filled with five hundred year old volumes and revel in their smell and feel and the sheer joy of knowing that for just a short slice of history I am custodian of such rarities.
I love books. I love being surrounded by them. If I had but the funds, I’d like nothing more than to assemble a first rate, proper library – old classics well made and maintained dating back from the dawn of printing and beyond. Given the reality of not having fabulous mountains of wealth, mine is a simple working collection of books. It’s hardly worthy to be considered a library at this point – just 500 or so volumes of history mixed with fiction, some government and politics, and a few outliers straying into sociology. Hardly a blip when compared to some of the lions of book collecting, whose personal libraries swelled to hundreds of thousands of books.
I read what interests me at the moment, acknowledging that it would be impossible to dive down every rabbit hole – or even one tenth of the rabbit holes given the limitations of time. Sure there are a few modern first editions living in places of honor on my shelf. There are a few well worn favorites that I keep coming back to time and again. If nothing else, I can at least claim that every book that ends up on one of my shelves is one that I’ve read. Nothing earns its spot there simply for decoration or adornment.
I could save a shitload of money if I were just able to borrow books from the public library like a normal person. I’m touched lightly by that gentle madness, though. The books possess me at least as much as I possess them… and I don’t mind it even a little bit.
1. Logos. People use their cars to broadcast things that are important to them to the rest of the traveling public – their favorite sports team, the fact that they’re memorializing a lost loved one by plastering their birth and death dates on the back window, or their affiliation with PETA, the NRA, or their great love of some random geographic location. What I never really expected to see was someone driving past with a two foot tall Under Armor logo affixed to his back window. I’m sure they make some very nice clothing, but for some reason it feels pretty much like me having a giant Fruit of the Loom logo emblazoned across the back of my truck. No matter how comfy they might be, it’s a safe bet that almost no one on the planet actually cares about your choices in underwear… but maybe I could interest you in a nice Dale Earnhardt “3” with angel wings if you’re really looking to class up your ride a little.
2. Printing. It’s apparently the hardest function known to network engineering. I don’t generally like having hard copies floating around, but there are just some moments when you can’t avoid needed a paper copy. Sure, that’s mostly because we’re woefully behind the curve when it comes to adopting ultra-portable computers and tablet technology, but that’s a different rant for a different night. All I really need is a printer that works reliably on the three days a month when I actually do need a dead tree copy of something. I can manage to keep a 99.99% up time on my home network with a history degree and a reasonable dose of common sense, surely the cast of hundreds who theoretically have advanced training and education in networking can come up with a way to make the bloody printers work.
3. Darkness at dawn. I’m ready for the cool, crisp evenings, but I’m not in any way prepared for the 6AM darkness that comes along with the end of summer. Over the last week I’ve regretfully noted the darkness encroaching a little further into the morning routine. At the end of July, the sun sparkled on the dew covered grass long before 6AM. Here at the end of August, there’s barely enough light to make out cars and houses on the other side of the road. In another few weeks it’ll be pitch black for the entire morning routine. A few weeks after that, it’ll be dark for the evening routine too. Maybe there’s something poetic about 10 hours of work and commute bookended by pitch blackness, but I trade in prose, not poetry, so the long, dark nights can bugger off because I’m nowhere near ready for them yet.
Those members of the workforce in a certain age bracket will remember the vaguely chemical smell of the still warm purple inked pages that use to define the phrase “homework assignment.” I can say with relative certainty that the $35,000 copier you are currently trying to crank start is not a “ditto machine” no matter what you say.
And since we’re in the general area of on the topic of printing, you don’t really have to stand there and manually insert the “funny” legal sized paper, while asking someone else to hit the print button on your computer. There’s a whole tray of it already there in the machine for you. If you really want to be fancy, you could even click the little checkbox on the print settings popup and print “duplex” copies rather than standing there and trying to print front and back manually.
Look, this is the sort of thing that might be fun to watch the first time, but after that, it’s hard to watch the same fail happening over, and over, and over… and over. You’re going to have to take my word on this, but learning how to use the big scary copier, is going to be good for you in the long run. Face your fear and do it anyway!
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of previously de-published blogs appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.