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Friday, October 26, 2012

The Largest Outdoor Bookstore in America

As I wandered the streets of Ojai, I noticed bookcases lining the outside of a house.  As I neared, I realized it wasn’t a house at all, but a façade of painted wooden siding, interspersed with windows, and overhung with corrugated fiberglass panels to mimic a roof.  But the bookcases filled with books: they were real.

I perused the shelves.  Signs offered these books for sale or trade on the honor system.  The bindings of many looked loose.  The covers seemed faded and worn.  It was as if the books themselves, exhausted by poor handling and all who had read them, had grasped one final opportunity for someone to read and love them.  “Look at me,” they cried.  “Please, take me home with you!”

Callously, I ignored their calls and walked “inside” Bart’s Books of Ojai.

I found myself surrounded by alcoves, and hallways formed by bookcases.  All were sheltered directly overhead by corrugated fiberglass panels.  Some areas required electric lights to illuminate the titles.  I wandered through a wide selection of subjects and categories, each identified by hand-drawn cardboard signs.  Several times, a staff member offered to help me find whatever I might be looking for.  A few customers sat beneath umbrella-covered tables, reading or chatting as they enjoyed the drinks and snacks Bart’s also sold.  After finding nothing I wanted in the Fiction area, I headed for the Science Fiction section.

A few years ago, when I subscribed to Writer’s Digest, I remember the magazine proclaiming that something on the order of 200,000 books were published in the English language every year.  That’s 200,000 titles, multiplied by all the copies of each title printed.  Despite the rise of electronic publishing, I suspect the number of books printed each year, whether they be hardcovers or paperbacks, has risen since then.  All those books have to go somewhere, and some will inevitably be thrown out or otherwise destroyed. 

Libraries and bookstores cannot hold copies of all the titles ever printed.  Even when owners and communities care for their books, time, the elements, and disasters still take their toll.  Little survives of Pliny the Younger beyond his letters, and their existence was probably insured because he writes about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and because he speaks of persecuting and executing Christians.  Aristotle’s philosophical works have profoundly shaped how we view and interpret the world, yet only roughly a third of them survive.  SFWA Grandmaster Robert Silverberg has bemoaned that so few of the dramas written by ancient Greek and Roman playwrights are still available.  And me?  I was looking for copies of the four novels Martin Caidin wrote about Steve Austin.  I’ve had trouble finding them in bookstores.  Where better to look than Ojai, Steve and Jaime’s hometown? 

Nope.  Nothing by Martin Caidin, whether Steve Austin-related or otherwise.

In perusing the Science Fiction section, I found a few books that interested me.  When I pulled out the copies, they left a dusty feeling on my hands.  As I’m allergic to dust and dust mites, I reluctantly put them back.  Perhaps I’ll find them elsewhere.

Bart’s Books helps readers of all ages find books and stories that can add value and joy to their lives.  Where I to live in Ojai, I can envision many happy times sitting at those umbrella-covered tables, discovering a new book, sipping my favorite drink, and enjoying the company of my fellow readers.  But I can’t help thinking about those tired and worn books outside, or the ones “inside” that were slowly disintegrating as I held them.  I know that nothing humans create can last forever.  Yet I can’t help thinking that those books, the products of creativity and hard work by thousands of authors throughout the course of human existence, deserve a little more protection against the elements.  Just a little bit more.

What do you think?

Dragon Dave

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