I Think I May Have My Epitaph: “He Was Born to Handle Books.”

I love books.

People who know my family history know that this love almost assuredly has its roots in my father’s love of books. Nearly all the time I knew him, he surrounded himself with books, sometimes when the family would have been better off had he spent the money on other things.

In spite of my resolve a few years ago to be freed of the care and feeding of most of the thousands of books in my personal library, I now find myself surrounded, once again, by thousands and thousands of books. This time, because of the post-modern marvels of Internet selling, one of the hats I wear is that of an online book dealer. Assisted by my associates—usually family—my company has assembled small warehouses crammed with book shelves. And books.

It is my job, for the most part, to catalogue them. You could argue, as many of my friends and acquaintances have, that this is a daft thing for me to be doing. Typically, the response is this: “You could get a high school student to do that after school hours.” But really you can’t. Not if you love books.

If you love books, you want to handle them, caress them, sometimes smell them. Browse their pages. Note their beauty or their imperfections. Even in the Joe Friday-like world (”nothing but the facts”) of the big all-business Internet book selling services (Amazon, Alibris, ABE Books, Biblio), when you love books, you are always looking for a way to convey to a potential buyer just how strongly you feel about a book’s appearance, its illustrations, its words. Its personality and its magic or its lack thereof.

So I spend probably more time than I can justify by most yardsticks repairing, cleaning the dustjackets of, evaluating, pricing, posting and handling books. Probably a part-time high school student would be much faster. I’m forever stopping to read the dustjacket promo copy, flip the pages, peruse a few paragraphs or, before I know it, a whole chapter.

Yesterday, it was a 1955 copy of Viktor Frankl’s The Doctor and the Soul that stalled my progress. Frankl has had a profound influence on my life through his work, Man’s Search for Meaning. The book I was looking at yesterday apparently pre-dated that one. I kept thinking I’d close it and move on. But I didn’t. I kept reading and reading. Talk about a reverence for being alive! Frankl had survived the death camps of Nazi Germany. He argued against euthanasia. He argued against suicide. He argued against the fatalistic uniformity of Freudian psychotherapy. He wanted people to live responsible lives. He wanted them to have a task as big as a life itself. He wanted a life for them that they could put their hands on!

He wrote, “We venture to say that nothing is more likely to help a person overcome or endure objective difficulties or subjective troubles than the consciousness of having a task in life. That is all the more so when the task seems to be personally cut to suit, as it were; when it constitutes what may be called a mission. Having such a task makes the person irreplaceable and gives his life the value of uniqueness.”

Maybe cataloguing books is one of my “cut to suit” tasks in life. I hope so. I really enjoy it.`

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