I had an interesting experience today. On the urging of a fellow tour guide, Asaf and I went to a used book sale. One of the used book dealers in Jerusalem is closing their warehouse and, as they say, EVERYTHING MUST GO.
The retail store is one of these hole in the wall establishments in the center of town. No frills, no fancy advertising or store front. When you walk into the room, you are greeted with stacks and stacks of used books. There are a few books outside in boxes and crates, but the stacks are inside. And not only are their stacks on the shelves, but
along every wall. Not the kind of place you want to hang around in if you have claustrophobia. So I don’t know what I was expecting from the warehouse.
Asaf and I arrived at the outlet which is located in a small kibbutz about 30 minutes outside of Jerusalem. We were instructed to turn at the very first left inside of the kibbutz. I wasn’t expecting a potholed, narrow, somewhat paved road, but the car behind me urged me to turn. After parking and hoping that any other cars would be able to get around me, we walked into the store.
Except it wasn’t really a store.
The building which housed the warehouse for the bookstore looked like a renovated chicken coop. Corrugated metal walls shielded broken down metal shelving and sagging wooden bookcases from the elements. On the bare concrete floor, rotting cardboard boxes held more treasure troves of yesterday’s written word. And those tomes which were not lucky enough to merit a shelf or a box (for it seemed there was no other ordering system than sheer luck) were simply scattered on the floor.
I was reminded of the pictures from the 1890’s of Solomon Schecter at the Cairo geniza surrounded by texts and manuscripts and words. Except this was worse.
If you ventured to the far reaches of the shack, you saw in the distance piles upon piles of cardboard boxes, with no way to discover the treasures within those towering stacks.
There were a few broken down couches, seemingly used at one time by those who tried to order this chaos; but today, they too were covered in books.
The people who came to dig for the treasure of books from bygone days were few. There was a young bookseller who accepted payment and tried to help the few customers who actually knew for what they were looking. He waved vaguely. “I think the book you are looking for should be somewhere over there in that section.”
Most of the customers, though, didn’t know what book would catch their fancy. They meandered around the store, some trying desperately not to step on the books, out of some well-instilled respect for books, others nonchalantly stepping on whatever they came across in order to get to supposed treasures surely just in the next aisle.
I actually knew a few people there today – seems I cannot go anywhere in Israel without running into someone I know. “Did you see Yigal Yadin’s Masada? There are still 2 more copies!”
“Nope, only one more!” from another shopper.
And from the shopkeeper, “Not Yigal, Yigael!” trying to retain some sort of respect for the author of a book which found itself in this sorry place.
That last copy made its way into my home. A replacement (this time in Hebrew) for a book which I once owned, but discarded in some bygone cleaning. Asaf also brought a few books home. One, like my copy of Masada, a replacement for a book we used to own, but is now no longer in our home.
One shopper commented to me, as he and his daughter browsed through the books, “Isn’t it amazing how many words are written, and how much effort is put into publishing books which no one will read and no one cares about?”
In my opinion, however, writing is as much process as product. It is our human desire to create, to produce, and to share, which drives us to write. And as some meager compensation for our efforts and a validation that they want to be part of that sharing, some people are willing to buy those words.
Even if only for $3.