We Are What We Covet

In memory of Rolland Comstock, a bibliophile who was mysteriously murdered in his Missouri home that housed about 50,000 first editions and other literary curios

My unborn son,
I am a collector of all things real that inform and enrich me.
I have no patience
For fiction
Or the so-called worth of modern first editions –
Fantasy, I assure you, is a foolhardy investment,
Lifeless clay with no form or duty,
Mere child’s play,
Like a formulaic Nancy Drew mystery,
OK to wile the time
But strictly for the meek of mind
And weak of spine.

Biography, history, exploration,
Comprehensive studies by preeminent scholars and world travelers,
These are the items worth pursuing
For the ambitious page-turner and seeker of small fortunes.

We are a nation founded upon the principles of decent, honorable men,
Soldiers of strong will,
Patriots of integrity,
Noble predators of rare, printed matter.
There is no escaping the significance of artifacts,
The books that have been written, revised and protected under glass and in Mylar wraps,
The bodies of work that have been amassed, decimated, buried
And yes, blasphemously remaindered
For the curious and most ravenous hunters among us
To surreptitiously discover, ruminate, vacillate, negotiate, purchase and preserve.

The corrective lens of hindsight indeed clouds our judgment.
With our corduroy pockets too shallow to pay
A proper antiquarian book dealer
For leathered boards of fastened paper manna in “as new” condition,
We are not a free people and our race cannot be won.
With shoplifting laws and the rising strength of the euro to resist us,
We cannot have liberty
Nor can we invoke poetic justice
Lest it appear as a trite phrase
In the fanciful, poorly constructed verse
Of a bourgeois poet’s cheap compilation reprint.

With shrewd shopkeepers protecting their bottom line to make this month’s rent,
Empowered by inflated prices published in Huxford’s Old Book Value Guide,
While quoting elite, snickering appraisers approved by the Antiques Roadshow clique,
My freedom to possess clothbound gems
Of factual, event-shaping narrative has been greatly compromised,
Limited by the lightness of my Velcro wallet and the extended patience of my creditors.

Like a forensics expert investigating the murder of a dear friend,
I have dug through many an independent bookseller’s grave
Looking high and low for the missing truth
And somewhere half between,
In the middle of my search,
I settled for hope.

My unborn son,
We cannot separate who we are from what we covet,
Learning from past buying mistakes, alas, does not ensure a future of wise acquisitions.

Garage sales, flea markets, library racks, bargain bins, thrift store boxes,
All with an abundance of used, dog-eared books for the taking,
Discarded and abandoned
Fated by happenstance
Left for dead
Like some mangy mixed breed
On a trailer-home littered desert highway.

My unborn son,
As my last will and testament,
I leave my fine collection of half-red morocco and marbled boards
With gold lettering and gilded leaf edges
To our local library,
And, to you,
I leave not money or material,
But words on a page:

Treasure the journey, my boy,
Make it meaningful.
Like your old man,
Do not hesitate to sift through pieces of rubbish.
As you will grow to learn,
The thrill of the chase always exceeds the wonder of the find,
So do savor the anticipation
Over the fleeting moments of exuberance.
And most of all, son,
Remember that a life worth sharing is better spent than a tale worth telling.

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