Cycling Through Books

used books 0920
The new Pat’s: a bin of masks for sale, and used books.

Even though I am a fan, bicycle road racing is a weird sport. When I started watching, it seemed like it should be straightforward, like a footrace or a triathlon: everyone starts at the same time and goes as fast as they can to the finish line. But that turns out not to be the way bike racing works.

Instead of everyone riding at his (or her) own pace, the riders spend most of the race in a big ball. Although, since it’s a Euro-centric sport, it’s a peloton, which without any research I’m reasonably sure is French for ball.

Periodically riders will try to get away off the front, but the peloton monitors this. If a rider that is highly placed in the overall classification tries to go, they will chase the breakaway down. If none of the riders is a threat to the day’s objectives, then it is allowed to go off the front — with the expectation that this breakaway will be ridden down by the peloton shortly before the finish.

What this amounts to, then, on many days of a grand tour, is a leisurely — and when I say leisurely I mean 30 miles per hour, so really not my idea of leisure on a bike — ride through the European countryside. Which is scenic and beautiful and a reason to watch even if you don’t care a fig for bike racing, but it also leaves those following along with plenty of time to multi-task. Not that all of us do this equally well.

I mentioned the other day that I am in a chat room of fellow grand tour enthusiasts. It’s a small group, very quick-witted people I don’t even try to keep up with as I multi-task ineptly. This group really enhances my race-watching experience, and it’s hard to imagine watching the races without it.

But the other day they rather depressed me, without knowing this. Because there is a lot of time in the roughly four hours of race-watching every morning where racing really isn’t, plenty of the chat commentary is reserved for things that have nothing to do with bikes.

The other day, the topic was books. Most of the chatters appear to be bibliophiles — one even posted a link to the article she’d written for her California Bay Area newspaper about the Little Libraries, or whatever they’re called, that people put up outside their homes to give away and receive books. She was specifically discussing what a godsend these have been in the time of Pandemia with so many libraries closed down.

Another chatter, on the opposite coast, moved and was trying to find a home for her hardback novels she no longer has room for. Her local Goodwill wasn’t accepting books; neither was the library.

A man in the upper Midwest suggested in jest that she burn the books, acknowledging that this would be heresy. But he did point out that it was heretical in the past because when the books were burned the knowledge contained within was lost. Now, with the Miracle of the Internet, the knowledge is not lost and the physical book is just taking up space.

I’m not sure he found any adherents, and some part of me always wonders what happens if digital records don’t survive in a format that can be read in the future (quick: do you have any means of accessing anything you put on a floppy disk 15 years ago?) — and then there’s the part of me that just likes books. The smell of them, the feel of them, even the sound as a new book is opened for the first time . . .

I wasn’t alone in this, and the woman with the give-away books refused to countenance burning, of course, but also recycling. She persevered until she located a nearby hospice that was accepting books. And good for her, I say.

But. We ran into the same problem here in Gunnison, when Kara came back from her sister’s in Denver with many items to donate. Six Points, a very popular thrift store, was happy to take everything except the books.

And there I was, with a bigger yet smaller house and no room to go with all my books, and our library closed and not accepting donations. (The library is now open on a limited basis, but still not accepting donations.)

So we decided to convert some of our storage space at Pat’s into a new used bookstore.

Which is easy to type, that sentence, and for the go-getters in this world I imagine it would be a done deal, but we’re still working on it. Books have been priced by one of my many friends who has worked in a library (everyone should have many friends who work in libraries), and I’ve staged most of them into vague categories.

But because our main price point is 25 cents, it doesn’t seem like a big money-maker, so when other things come up — really, pretty much anything — they take priority. Karen, my book-pricing friend, suggested we aim for a Labor Day opening, which may or may not happen.

In the meantime, though, I did source boards from my pile at the woodshop, and some cinder blocks from my pile near my compost (which look like they’ve lived near compost and not regal, like some college-era board-and-brick shelves), and set up a random sampling of books in our existing retail area. Kara reported that one customer at least looked at them, although nothing was purchased.

Maybe most of them won’t be. That was the sense my bicycle chat group gave me. Because I am not much of a chatter — too busy multi-tasking badly — none of them have any awareness of my plan, so their conversation wasn’t focused on me at all, just the necessity, or not, of books.

The Washington Post has been having this discussion as well, and you can see the book world devolving — or perhaps it’s merely developing — into a couple of camps. There’s the TL “I could never give up my books” camp, and the man from the Midwest’s fellow philosophers: I can access any book I want on my e-device, so why do I need to surround myself with paper?

During the book conversation this man said his best friend’s son works at a half-price bookstore, and they end up destroying about 90 percent of what comes through their doors. Suggesting that more and more, people are moving into the e-device camp. Hence the abundance of donations, hence the reason no one is accepting book donations these days.

In light of that, setting up a bookstore seems to be more of a folly than most of my follies. But I don’t know where else to go with my books, and like the East Coast woman, I can’t really bear the notion of recycling them when they still have so much love to give. And I am not about to burn them. Ever.

So far, we are very little out of pocket on this venture: we gave up some storage space that could have used some judicious shoring up anyway, and I’ve sourced shelves and bookcases from my house. We’ve had to buy some shelf brackets, and we did pay a man to clean windows that were so grimy and disgusting that it was well worth paying for, even in the lean times of Pandemia.

But this is what I really noticed, as I came around the corner into our retail section and beheld our two shelves of books for sale: seeing them there, on display, makes me far happier than any t-shirt ever has. Ill-fated or not, I’m going to try my hand at selling used books. Any ol’ day now.

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