Stuff 3: Books 7 August 11, 2016
Second Life Books proved to be sort of a Mom and Pop operation. Or at least, Pop and Son, although that particular status may be as temporary as it proved eccentric.
After seeing them mentioned on Facebook, I checked out their website, feeling stunned with happiness to confirm that they would pick up unwanted books anywhere in Toronto for free.
My husband had something approaching a thousand books at the university, and it was time to cull them and move to a home office. After reassuring myself that Second Life Books exists, we spent a long day at the university culling. By the time evening crept through the window, he’d decided to keep about four hundred.
I’d already got out the shoehorn—and hammer, screwdriver, I Hate Ikea addresses for encouragement while assembling a new bookcase—and knew there was just barely space for that many, at least with some double shelving, having floated a limit of three hundred fifty.
That left nine large full boxes of discards, some fairly recent, since my husband had judged a non-fiction prize not long ago and hadn’t had time to get rid of the overflow.
I look back nostalgically on the days when you could easily sell the books you got when judging a literary award. In fact, it was part of the fee, since payments to literary judges used to be so low. The administrators of the awards apologized for the fee and told you where to unload the excess books, naming places where the booksellers proved happy to see you.
But as I’ve written, I found trying to sell my recent discards to be a waste of time, as did the family of the late, admirable scholar Ursula Franklin, at least according to her Globe & Mail obituary, where one paragraph has a sting in its tail.
“(Franklin) had a sharp, sardonic wit and a huge heart for those she invited into her inner circle,” writes Michael Valpy. “She once said she liked the monarchy because it represented ‘defanged power’ and after unsuccessful attempts to find a home for her academic library, she observed, ‘Books are the new Jews; no one wants them.’”
I admit I had low expectations for Second Life Books, not because I’d heard anything negative about them, but because of another step in my Stuff project: getting rid of three big old metal filing cabinets squatting along a wall that was prime territory for yet another (I Hate) Ikea bookcase.
Friends had tried to give away old filing cabinets on social media and hadn’t got any takers, so I’d decided to go straight to a scrap metal dealer, having heard about a guy who’d cleaned out someone’s father’s apartment when he moved into assisted living. My friend said the scrap metal guy would want to drop over right away, so I spent an afternoon packing the papers from the cabinets into boxes that could be culled later.
The next morning, I called the scrap guy, Alex. He answered right away, his voice staccato, a welter of industrial noise behind him as he took my address, saying he’d charge thirty dollars and arrive at 2 o’clock.
I hung up happy at the good timing. After Alex took the cabinets away, I’d have an afternoon to tear out the old carpet, clean the room and drag the new bookcase into place, with everything sorted by End of Day. (Saying End of Day always makes me feel efficient, even though I seldom get things done according to the schedule scrawled in my day timer, which I’ve gone back to keeping by hand, and which bears no resemblance to those la la popular bullet journals with their pretty pictures, but involves over-long lists and second-thought arrows ⏎ and X cross-outs and the occasional happy check mark ✔ .)
Alex hadn’t arrived by 4 p.m., but when I called his cell, he said he was on his way and would be there any minute.
Three-quarters of an hour later, Alex called saying he wasn’t on his way, but would be able to drop by the next afternoon.
Problem, I said. I teach then.
Next evening, he said.
My son’s birthday, I told him. I’m going straight from teaching to dinner.
Alex made a dubious noise, as if teaching was a barely acceptable excuse but a birthday wasn’t.
“We have a reservation,” I pleaded. “What about another day?”
“I’ll swing by now,” he said.
That was the last I heard of Alex. Not only did he never show up, he dropped the call when I tried to rebook then stopped answering his cell, even though I swear I’d been completely pleasant, solicitous—obsequious, in fact, badly wanting him to take away the damn cabinets, which were far too unwieldy for me to wrangle downstairs myself.
Filing cabinets, step one. Abject failure. And we hadn’t got anywhere near books.