The Questions We Didn't Know to Ask
I meet remarkable persons in our bookstore. Engagement with them, their minds and ideas, their books, their passion has broadened my culture, humbled me and made me comfortable with, even excited about, diverse cultures. Some of these fascinating persons have become my friends. And I frequently am called to help families when the older ones pass away.
Like finding homes for kittens, senior book collectors worry about their books being recognized, valued, enjoyed and preserved. That is a service our bookstore provides. Even self-proclaimed non-readers seem concerned that books be preserved. After all, until a generation ago they were the dominant and stablest vehicle of culture. If a reader shopped here for many years, we are most likely offered their books when they pass away.
I cannot count the libraries of bibliophile friends I have purchased over the years, but I have found myself at the same frustrating juncture again and again while handling the books of esteemed late clients. When one handles every book in a person’s library, one sees the person from numerous angles. It is an intimate experience. A person’s books show their curiosity. One’s books reveal personality and history. Unread books reveal hopes and desires. When I handle a deceased person’s books, I begin to understand the person more deeply than before, and it suggests questions too late for the asking.
This year I am having the experience again in the most personal possible way. I am now processing the second half of the library of my parents, Samuel Weller (1921 – 2009) and Lila N. Weller (1915 – 2021). Some of you remember that Sam retired in 1997 when he became blind. At that time, with his lively participation, we brought a few thousand books into the bookstore for resale, and many customers were excited by the books he owned. We stopped removing books from the crowded household about half way through, and Sam passed away in 2009. Now, with the passing of my mother Lila in April, the rest of this generation of Weller books must have new homes. Many are my father’s books, but most of them are from my mother’s library. And just like questions I might have asked departed bookstore friends like John Schow or Victor Kassell, the questions I didn’t know to ask my mom are adding up.
As I go through the remaining Weller books, I discover questions I could not have known I would ever want to ask, questions that can’t be fathomed until a book nudges curiosity. Mostly about books, but also about some personal matters. No less now with my parents’ books am I thwarted by the absence of the persons with the answers. Who ever knows how much story is lost with each passing soul?
It will require months to sort all of my parents’ books: to bring the majority to the store and process them before putting them on the shelves. Our libremount, the name I gave the mountain of books behind our pricing desk, shrinks and grows as we add departed friends’ collections, and now we are adding Weller family books.
The books arriving from Sam and Lila’s collections? Nutrition, Cookbooks, Mysteries, Astrology, Jazz commentary, Pogo and Western Americana.
Are there old books, papers and photos in your family? Ask your elders questions while there is still time. Label oblique things. Ask for stories. With your curiosity, build a bridge from their generation to yours.
92 Years of Bookselling. Ten years in Trolley Square.
In August, we mark 92 years of juggling and vending dreams, knowledge, stories and poetry--ahem, books. After almost 18 months of constrained activities, we are just now beginning to fathom in-person activities. Author events and the resumption of the Collectors Book Salons are occupying our attention, so no anniversary celebration is in store for us in 2021. Instead, please join us for a celebratory return to in-person activities on Sunday, August 1 (see page X for details).
We are planning a postponed memorial for Lila Weller for some time in October, date to be announced.