Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Pock-mark to Zymurgy

When I was in the seventh grade, my class was chaperoned to a Massachusetts historical site. The ride on a school bus was a long one, so Miss Thynge arranged for us to have something to occupy us and keep us from being bored on the bus. It was a crossword puzzle that she had created. She showed us the biggest dictionary that I had ever seen and said that this would be the prize to the first person to get the puzzle done accurately.

Miss Thynge didn't know that my grandfather was a champion crossword puzzler who was busily creating the "best crossword puzzle dictionary in the world." For several years, my grandfather had let me help him and my knowledge of crosswords was probably exceptional for a twelve year old boy. I had no doubts that I would win the contest and I considered that marvelous dictionary as mine already.

Sure enough, I finished the puzzle in five minutes to the amazement of Miss Thynge. She was also amazed to find that it was all correct. I was visualizing how proud my Grandfather would be when I brought home that wonderful dictionary, when, a minute later, the smartest girl in the class, Betsy B., completed the puzzle, also correct. Now, Miss Thynge had a problem. Betsy was starting to cry, because she felt that she had also won the dictionary. Somehow, the time factor didn't matter to her.

Exhibiting the "wisdom of Solomon", Miss Thynge suddenly solved her problem. She borrowed a jack knife from one of the boys (we carried such dangerous weapons in our boots in those days.) She immediately measured the massive book with a squinted eye and sliced the book in half through its binding. The result was a two book set: Book one, for Betsy, went from Aardvark to Pocket Veto; Book two, for me, went from Pock-mark to Zymurgy. Thus, we both had prizes and were relatively happy.

Over the years, I have often thought about the influence Miss Thynge made on my life in many ways, and I have always admired her, but never more than when, fifty years after her historical incision, I found something at the annual Smith College Book Sale that made me admire her even more. It was Volume Two of the New Century Dictionary of the English Language, and its printed range was: Pock-mark to Zymurgy.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Book Donation

I haven't been on for a while because I am trying to get ready to move. The first step is to empty my house and prepare it for sale. For all of my life I have been collecting books and my fiancee estimated that I had 30,000. I don't think it was that many, but it was quite a few.

I have boxed most of the books (I am taking about 1,000 to my new house)... this has been a massive undertaking. I came up with about 40 boxes in the first few months of packing them. I donated some to churches, libraries, Goodwill in Westminster, Goodwill in Owings Mills (after they argued with me about taking them).. .. finally, I decided to box all remaining books and donate them at one time to some worthy organization. But which one?

After many many calls and lots and lots of advice, I talked to someone in the Baltimore Salvation Army who was willing to have them picked up. I told them that I had about 80 boxes of books. They scheduled me four times and finally, yesterday, they showed up with a massive truck.

They were surprised to find that I had 83 boxes on my back patio (down a hill.... I had warned them), 22 boxes in my basement, and 7 at the front door. There were two young men and they were not happy at first about the amount of work they would have to do. Using a dolly they brought and one I had, they tried to take books from the back and up the hill. Impossible job.

I rang my neighbor's doorbell to ask if they could bring the truck down their driveway, so they would have a straight shot to the truck and wouldn't have to contend with the hill. The neighbor wasn't home, so, not wanting the S.A. guys to leave without the books, I told them to bring the truck down into the neighbor's driveway anyway.

My neighbor hasn't been very happy with me since I complained about his hound dog bellowing from 7:30 am until 5:30 pm every day outside my window, so I was apprehensive when I saw his big pickup truck suddenly appear. But, he was real good about it. So, the guys continued to load the truck.... with only the 80 boxes they had expected.. however, I began to carry two boxes at a time by hand as they worked and they must have felt sorry for an old bastard like me risking another heart attack or sun stroke, and they finally ended up taking all 112 boxes of books.

I estimate that there were around 5,000 books (hardbacks and paperbacks) in the boxes. Some books I paid 10 cents for at yard sales, some I paid over $100 for at book stores. There were a couple of first editions mixed in.. and a couple of encyclopedia year books.. but no encyclopedias. Those will have to be disposed of some other way.

Earlier, when I donated seven boxes of books at the Owings Mills Goodwill, they gave me a big hard time.. but they finally took them. As I drove away, I saw them throwing the boxes in their garbage bins!

What has happened to the love of books? You can hardly give them away. Has TV and video games taken over? Many people I know do not have very many books in their homes. Our local newspaper interviews celebrities and always asks what book they are currently reading. Most are not reading any.. some are reading magazines instead.. some have no time to read other that work-related books. Some TV shows (like Leno's) have "Man on the street" type segments in which they might ask questions that readers could definitely answer.. the people they ask, sometimes college students do not know even basic information and can't answer questions intelligently. What does this say for our educational system? How can someone get into college without having a little basic knowledge?

St. John's College in Annapolis has the famous books study program. What a great idea.. why can't other colleges copy the program?

Books... I love them.