Backhanded Honor

Last night, while Susie watched in bemusement, I scooted another milk cartonload of my books up to my worktable, opened BookDB2, and went to work cataloging.  (This project is going at the speed of Snoopy’s attempting to read one word per day of War and Peace, but it gives me something to do besides scroll through Facebook endlessly.)

I did hit a milestone last night.  I didn’t note the exact time, but I entered Book #200 at some point in the evening.  I hadn’t really been keeping track, but I did see the counter reach 200.  As usual, I had the Library of Congress’ catalog open in one window and OhioLINK’s in another, searching for call numbers.  (Most hardcover books published in the last 15-20 years include them just inside the title page, but most published before then don’t.  There’s never an always and always an exception, however.)

The book I entered was a paperback novel, This Man and This Woman.  It is significant because it is the only novel written by Jim Bishop.  (He published it in 1963 under the title Honeymoon Diary.)

Bishop was my first literary idol.  Here is his biography, from the St. Bonaventure University’s Jim Bishop Archives.  His claim to fame with me, however, is that his book The Day Lincoln Was Shot was the first “grownup” book that I read from beginning to end.  I checked it out of the Washington School library in Marietta when I was in fourth grade.

The cover of the edition of The Day Lincoln Was
Shot that captured my attention at age 10.

Part of the interest, I think, came from the fact that my parents had the Bantam paperback of his book The Day Kennedy Was Shot, which would be the first of many books on John F. Kennedy’s assassination that I would read over the years.

What intrigued me most was the way Bishop told the story, in both the book about Lincoln and the one about Kennedy.  The Day Lincoln Was Shot begins at 7 a.m. on April 14, 1865, as President Lincoln steps from his bedroom and goes to his office.  It ends just over 24 hours later, when the surgeon general declares him dead.  Each chapter of the book represents one hour of that day, and the titles are “7 a.m.,” “8 a.m.,” etc., along with two chapters of background.

Later that year, I tried my hand at a “The Day” manuscript, describing a day trip Dad and I took to Wheeling (I was 9½ at the time) one Sunday to see his brother and his family.  I came home with a bad case of gastrointestinal flu, diagnosed by a midnight visit to the emergency room once we were back in Marietta.

I went on to read The Day Kennedy Was Shot, as well as The Day Christ Died, both of which were told in the same hour-to-hour format.  The library did own a copy of Honeymoon Diary, and I read it, despite being turned off by the Harlequin Romance-ish title.

Bishop spoke at the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner in Marietta in 1979.  I hurried through delivering The Marietta Times and ran, my clothes still smudged with ink from newspapers, to the Hermann Fine Arts Center on the Marietta College campus, because I read a small item in the paper saying there would be a reception for him.  I managed to get close to him, and shake his hand.

Speaking with him was a delight.  He was pleased that I had read his “The Day” books, and we spoke about another book of his, The Murder Trial of Judge Peel.  He was surprised that I remembered a line from a 1973 column he wrote about the last words of some famous and infamous people.  The line quoted the final words of a criminal just before he died in the electric chair: “Dump my body on the D.A.’s doorstep.”  When he introduced me to his wife Kelly, I quoted his words about her in the dedication of The Day Kennedy Was Shot: “My wife, my assistant, my life.”

And I mentioned that I had read Honeymoon Diary.  His smile evaporated, and he shuddered a little.  “Oh, my God!” he whispered.  He patted my hand, as though offering condolences.  “I’m so sorry.”

How much he hated Honeymoon Diary didn’t register with me until the early 1980s, when I read his autobiography.  He mentions the book only once, describing it as “an ugly, gauche, tasteless work.”

In the end, I suppose I honored him by letting a work of his be the 200th book I entered.  He died in 1987, aged 78, though I still can imagine him thinking, “But why did it have to be that book?”

Odd What Work Will Inspire

By “work” I mean my moonlighting at Columbus State’s Discovery Exchange this evening.  (Since this was a cost-savings day, the Industrial Commission was closed, and I slept until mid-morning, venturing out for a beard trim, and trips to Subway, the post office, and Kroger.)  Work at Columbus State’s bookstore began at 5:30, and I walked the nearly two miles from Weinland Park there.  The temperature has been above 40 degrees today, so I was quite comfortable in a hoodie for this walk.

The flow of customers is starting to pick up, and I understand it’ll be sheer chaos come Monday, the first day of classes for the winter quarter.  I’m finding Columbus State’s students to be much more likable than many of the students I met during my many seasonal stints at DuBois Book Store.  I think the difference is that the community college student has already experienced some responsibility and motivation in life.  Many of them are continuing their educations after raising children, many are taking night school or online classes while working 40 hours per week, and many are trying to get their GEDs.

My experience with students at the University of Cincinnati (and I played this observation to death, and not at all flatteringly, in my still-unpublished novella The Textbook Diaries) was that many of them were kids who enrolled in college because they learned that getting a job at Keller’s IGA or joining the Army actually involved work.  There was a bumper sticker popular at O.U. that said “College is a four-year party with a $20 thousand cover charge.”  There were more students living off campus than on, mostly with their parents.  It was easy to tell that some of them were just marking time before going to work for the family business.

It wasn’t until I worked at DuBois that I began to understand the meaning of the phrase “a sense of entitlement.”  When working customer service on the floor, I lost track of how many times someone would come in, thrust his/her class schedule into my face, and say, “Find my books for me.”  After the second or third time this happened, I politely but firmly explained how the shelves were laid out, where the course guides were located, and how to read the shelf cards to determine the required books for the courses.

While there were few customers on the second floor, in the textbook area, I took a cart loaded with buybacks so I could re-shelve them.  The books were on the cart in a pile, not organized in any way at all.  I took a pack of security strips (silver peel-off strips that resemble the gold strip that used to unwrap the cellophane on cigarette packs) and put them on the books, in inconspicuous places.  Then I’d walk around the textbook area and re-shelve the books in their proper places.  (Some were easier than others; the packets of software were the worst.  Some of the other buybacks were for popular subjects, so I’d walk by a shelf and see it crammed with the identical title, and I’d place it there.)

Once work ended and I came home, I had some chicken soup, and then came to the laptop and resumed the book cataloging project I started the other day and blogged about earlier this week.  I managed to do all the books in a milk crate, plus some of the volumes stacked outside it, and set aside three books that had no Library of Congress call numbers.  (Susie was in the other room working on her blog, and didn’t pay attention to her dad’s latest madness.  She’s long since gotten used to it.)

I don’t know whether I’ll buy a few rolls of the little library stickers and then try to organize all this once this endeavor is finished, but it is fun (mostly) to look at what I have and type it into the database.  Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library to Congress to replace the Library of Congress’ holdings.  (Most of the original Library of Congress was destroyed when the British burned Washington in 1814.  Jefferson was drowning in red ink–something he and I share, besides being Unitarian–and sold his personal library to pay off some of his many debts.  In reality, he used it to start a new collection of books.)  Jefferson’s intention was to organize his books based on Lord Bacon’s hierarchy of science, but he ended up shelving them by size.  (For more information, click here.)

Here is just a little of what I’m working with here:

"Some People Read Automobile Books or Rifle Magazines"

The title of this post is a line from the 1968 movie The Boston Strangler.  Attorney John Bottomly (Henry Fonda), who has been questioning the alleged Boston Strangler (Tony Curtis) for hours at a time, unwinds after these long interrogations by burning the midnight oil, burying himself in his law books.  When his wife asks why he is reading law, he says this is his way of relaxing.  “Some people read automobile books or rifle magazines,” he says.

My level of energy and motivation has been almost non-existent.  I was able to feign enough energy and activity for my first day back to work since Wednesday, but pretty much ran out of energy as soon as I came home.  I said hi to Steph and Susie, checked to see if there was any mail for me (there wasn’t), and then went up to the master bedroom and fell asleep immediately.  I didn’t remove shoes, glasses, watch, or cell phone, just collapsed in a heap on the bed.

The energy level (either mental or physical) isn’t much higher now, but nevertheless I’m going to try to stay focused long enough to type out a blog entry.  (I have my ear buds in and am alternating between the B-52s and the Alan Parsons Project right now, with no clue as to what that does for/to creativity.)

So, since I read neither automobile books or rifle magazines (having never used either an automobile or a rifle in my 47 years on earth), what am I doing to unwind?  Yesterday, I had a somewhat sustained burst of activity (it may have been a manic episode) and I spent hours communing with BookDB2, a shareware program I downloaded earlier this month from Spacejock Software.  I’ve begun cataloging my “holdings” here.

I’ve made futile efforts at this in the past.  When I took a public speaking class at St. Mary’s Middle School in the eighth grade, I gave a presentation on my book collection, and I brought in a small red and black hardbound notebook in which I had listed every book I had on my shelf (or windowsill or tucked over my bedroom door).  There was no logic or order as to where they went on the shelf–Jim Bouton’s Ball Four could be side by side with Joseph Gallagher’s To Be a Catholic, and paperback classics of American literature jostled alongside Pocket Books editions of Erle Stanley Gardner.

Most recently, I seem to have caught the bug after the evening I spent volunteering at Sporeprint, helping to organize and catalog its lending library.  (I wrote about it in an earlier entry in this blog.)  Our goal was to shelve the books by Library of Congress Classification.  Many books published in the last decade print this information after the title page, but when confronted with a book that didn’t have this, another person looked up the appropriate call number from the Library of Congress’ online card catalog.

Steph and Susie, sitting at their respective laptops in the dining room, looked up from time to time to see me carrying armloads of books from the milk crate bookshelves here in the living room and stacking them on the floor around my worktable.  Once sitting at the laptop, I’d click on BookDB2 and begin entering the specifics about the book.  At first, I was content just to enter author and title information, and maybe date of copyright, but soon I decided to enter call numbers.  Just like at Sporeprint, I kept the Library of Congress’ page up, and often found myself looking up book titles so that it would retrieve the call numbers for me.

(We’ve all heard the myth that the Library of Congress has a copy of every single book published in the United States.  It is just that, a myth.  I have encountered two books in my own collection–and I am sure there are more–that the Library of Congress doesn’t possess.  One is Sam Hedrin’s novelization of Network, based on the screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky.  The other is Robert Lomas’ The Secrets of Freemasonry.)

To make the project even more interesting, I set up the main menu to sort by call number, so it fascinated me to see the titles arrange themselves by subject matter–which they definitely are not in at the present moment.  Once the project is finished, I may consider buying the little spine stickers, marking the books, and then trying to arrange them in some semblance of order.  At least in the main menu, the sacred books are organized together (right now The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton is on the same shelf as Stephen King and James A. Michener).

I plan to be a deliberate latecomer to the world of the Kindle.  I have seen more and more people on the bus with them, especially after work, but I still like my over-the-shoulder bag bursting with actual print, from library books to the composition book in which I write my diary.  I may be more tempted once the price drops, but until then, a Kindle is nowhere on the horizon.  That is probably why my all-time favorite Star Trek character, throughout all the various series, was Captain Kirk’s attorney Samuel T. Cogley in the original series first-season episode “Court Martial.”  He eschews the use of computers and tapes, saying, “I’ve got my own system!  Books, young man, books!”  He invites himself–along with his many books–to move into Kirk’s cabin and excitedly discourses on how much he loves books before planning Kirk’s case with him.

“This is where the law is!  Not in that
homogenized, pasteurized synthesizer!”
–Samuel T. Cogley (Elisha Cook) to
Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner)
in “Court Martial,” Stardate 2947.3