Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Cure

This is what I do: I select, arrange, and tend my books. I've been doing it since I was a merry defecator behind the hedges at our place on the Island. Four years old. Curious George. Harold and the Purple Crayon. I curated those books so good that they fell apart and my Aunt Matilda had to buy replacement copies.

I curated them in my hideaway under the cellar stairs and I curated them between the foot of my bed and the gerbil cage under the window that faced the Patterson's house. They had a barking collie. God, my father hated that dog cause it kept me awake in the summer. I lay there on the floor and smelled my books. My gerbils were connoisseurs of the bindings.

I curated books in my school locker and in the attic. In the trunk in the garage and in the Danish Modern wall unit in our living room. I bicycled down to the Elmont Public Library and watched Cissy the librarian curate books in that fuzzy pink sweater of hers. This was a milestone, gettin the notion of classifyin the things by subject and category and genre into my head. To be a good curator you needed to know about Dewey's decimal system and the Library of Congress. You needed to fill out index cards and arrange them in long thin drawers. You needed to learn how to use the curator's tools -- Books in Print, microfilm and microfiche, acetate jacket covers, mucilage, tape, safety razors, rolling ladders, library carts. My neat little book world, curated by me. My desk may have been a mess, my bed unmade, and my clothes strewn all over the place, but, man oh man, was my library in order! Young poot was a busy and passionate bee when it came to his shelves. Aunt Matilda called me The Budding Mapmaker.

At some point after my walkabout years, curation was no longer a hobby, or as Quist liked to call it, "an avocation." It became my job, only it was called something else. Bookselling. I dint get it at first, I thought bookselling was selling books, not curatin them. True, you had to select, arrange, and tend them, but that wasn't enough, was it? I mean, you were also supposed to make money, weren't you? Me and The Backlist Gang were mentally stymied by the whole thing. I figgered, shoot, I'm still the same kid under the cellar stairs puttin my books in order, except now I got a cash register and people wanderin in from Third Avenue with plastic in their pocket.

For a long spell we made money and when you make money you don't have to think about things like the difference between bookselling and curation. We ate out, took vacations, saw shows, bought little places in the country -- we moved up the ladder. I write these words now in amazement: we made a decent living selling books.

That was then. Now I wake up and the books stare down at me from their shelves wearin looks of puzzlement. "What's gonna happen to us, poot? You still gonna take care of us?" I think to myself, sure thing, after all I really never stopped bein a curator. So, yeah, I'll still take care of you. But what about my buddies in The Backlist Gang who still own bookstores or work in publishing? Now they gotta think about the distinction between selling books and curatin them.

You think they're the same thing, poot? You think you gonna make a livin off one or the other?

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