A book and a birthday

This is a random story. I really like books. You know Walter Benjamin, in one of his essays he writes on unpacking his library. The essay is about not his book collection as such, but about the very process and meaning behind collecting books, and he goes on and on about it. At first, I reacted to it as bourgeois sentimentality, and, soon enough, I realized I was emulating it. Okay, we can all have our vices. The problem is that almost always, whenever I walk into a used bookstore, I can’t walk out without having purchased something; and if it is older, the better. Now this isn’t anything as fancy as what Benjamin’s going after (or, more aptly, anything like what Benjamin’s going after) but I can give you a bit of an idea of what my kind of sentimentality involves.

Over the winter, I was writing a paper on states — that is, the state, what it is, why it is, etc. (and, of course, from a Marxist perspective). I figure the paper would’ve been a really good and sound basis for further studies in political science but that the paper was actually a paper about writing a paper about the state — a “bibliographic essay.” One of the books that was very important in writing this paper was The State and Political Theory, by Martin Carnoy. It was published in 1984 and synthesized many of the Marxist debates on the state up until then (and, in fact, since then the debate has perhaps not gone very far, in many ways). I had to sign it out from one of the college libraries at the University of Toronto because, I think, the Robarts copy is missing (or stolen, it’s worth stealing).

In Markham not too far from where I live, there is a used bookstore. The problem with this one, unlike BMV or any of the other used bookstores downtown, is that stock turnover is really low, and new (old) things take a long time to arrive and be put on display. And, since I spend so many Fridays there, this is one of those rare used bookstores from which I can often walk out without having purchased anything.

But, one Friday, I stumbled upon Carnoy’s book in fine paperback. With the exception of a little bit of hard-to-notice highlighting in the front, the book was spotless. Now, what’s interesting is that what seems to be the original receipt was still in the book. It is a receipt for two texts, actually — one cost $5.95, the other $13.30. I can’t imagine this book costing $5.95, even back in the 1980s (although, the used price was $6.00), so probably it was purchased for $13.30. If, indeed, it is in fact the original receipt. But I’d like to think that it is because the date on the top says “02-12-85”. This, of course, can mean one of two things: February 12, 1985, or December 2, 1985.

For no reason other than sheer sentimentality, which is where we began, I’d like to think it’s the latter — because that’s my birthday.

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    J. Moufawad-Paul said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 1:11 am

    I love finding books that I’ve wanted, but might not have thought about wanting, in used books stores. I’ve found several gems that way: a collection of Lenin’s writings on the State in a used bookstore in Windsor (before I was really a Leninist), Ian Banks’ Wasp Factory when I had forgotten I wanted to read it (in Toronto), and Michael Moorcock’s Ice Schooner (in Windsor) years after I had read it during highschool in a library in Portland Oregon and loved it….

  2. 2

    Fama said,

    April 4, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

    My department once sent out a mass email that they were throwing away old books that were just taking up space they needed in the library and if you wanted to take what you like, go to room so-and-so. I came out carrying as many books as my bag and arms could manage. Completely random books, but they were from decades ago, and I like the way old books smell. I DID wait around until I was sure no one else wanted them, but apparently no one else cares about the principles on how to create a vacuum – even if its signed on the inner page by a famous (long deceased) professor and even with the fragrance of 1948 on it..I’m glad I ‘saved’ it, is all.

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