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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

THE EMPATHIC LIBRARY

There is a very cool establishment in downtown LA called The Last Bookstore. All of their upstairs warrens of used books are organized first by color and then alphabetically within each color or variation.  It looks really great, but it is a royal pain to find those obscure titles collectors search for unless you know the color of the cover. Great for browsing, not so great for finding specific wants.
 
My own shelves are organized aesthetically. Books appear to be grouped by subject and genre, however, they are really grouped by the emotions I attach to the books. Nobody else could find anything, but if you pushed all thousand-plus titles onto the floor and mixed them up, I would be able to methodically put each one back in its original place.
 
If I was away and you needed to find a specific title, I could call you and tell you the specific shelf and position on the shelf where you could find it. Very OCD (or CDO – which is OCD in the right order), but I have a tremendous attachment to the books I now retain.
 
I once had over three thousand books in the library, including a big collection of signed first editions. That got split in half in one of those life partings which see possessions cut in half with an emotional chainsaw.
 
In some ways, losing half of what I considered my library was a big help to me. It delivered a strong blow to my obsessive collector tendencies, and made me think about what it was I really wanted from a personal library. I realized it should not simply be a collection of books without any strong connection to the individual who assemble the tomes on the shelves – it needed to be a living, changing, reflection of the individual collector.
 
As a result, I ended up whittling down my half of the original library to only those books to which I had an emotional connection. I lost all interested in signed first editions, which to be of value must only have a signature without any personalization. I also came to realized as I grew intellectually, matured emotionally, and changed life perspective, my personal library needed to change as well. I realize this perspective will be seen as blasphemy by many, including a number of personal friends whose collections go back to the first books they bought for themselves. To each their own…
 
However, acting on my epiphany has seen the books in my library settle in consistently at around 800 titles, but which have change almost completely three or four times in the past twenty-five years. There is still a core of about 200 books which are permanent entries, but all the rest are fair game to be swapped out for something different. 
 
I do not seek signed copies any more unless I have a personal connection to a book or its author – for instance, I have signed copies of all the paperbacks from the Fight Card series I edited…and will always keep. I also have a signed copy of The Razor's Edge with which I will never part because of how the book came into my possession and how much that particular story has affected my life.
 
I have also turned my collection into a readers' library. I prefer books that have been cared for, yet well read. They are not monetarily valuable in the least, but they have a priceless emotional history I can actually feel. I know that sounds wacky, but none-the-less it works for me. There isn't a book on my shelves I haven't read, where as before, when the tomes numbered in the thousands, over half had never been read and were simply sitting on the shelves to fulfill a compulsion.
 
For a number of years now, I've felt the current incarnation of my library was pretty static. In reality, it didn't change because I wasn't changing. I needed the stability of the titles I knew and kept there on the shelves waiting and comforting. However, recently, I have started to have an inkling a fairly large number of certain titles were telling me they expected to continue their journey from my shelves to elsewhere.
 
In much the same way, I sometimes feel like a well-worn title in a confined collection – pushing myself further and further to the edge of the shelf – caught between fear of freefall and the exhilaration of new growing experiences.
 
As this time for a gentle library purge approaches, I have been running my fingers down the well-worn spines of friends, recognizing it is okay for them to immigrate to new homes and collections. I also know there are other worn paperbacks and slightly battered hardcovers waiting for me to discover them and take them in… 
 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was twice honored as Detective of the Year.  He continues to work privately as an interrogation and deception expert. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, Lie Catchers, begins a new series featuring top LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall.

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