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October 24, 2014

Hardy Jackson: What beach books can tell you, or not

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Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 6:06 pm | Updated: 6:10 pm, Wed Jul 16, 2014.

POUTIN’ HOUSE SOUTH, SEAGROVE BEACH, Fla. — Having overseen the cleaning out of my parents’ house and the downsizing of our home in Jacksonville, it followed naturally that my helpmate would decide the time had come for us to cast out the accumulated years of “stuff” that had collected at our place down on the coast.

Some of the “stuff” dated back to when the cottage was built in 1956. It had survived Hurricane Eloise in 1975. Would it survive Hurricane Suzanne in 2014?

Here was the flotsam and jetsam left behind by a succession of family and friends who knew that good manners dictated the bringing of a “happy” to compensate for any aggravation their visit might cause — games to entertain the kids, beach kitsch for that not-by-a-decorator look we all want to achieve, liquor for Daddy.

The liquor is long since gone, but a lot of the rest remained.

So the mother of Will and Anna Jackson went to work.

By the sidewalk she placed a table. She piled it high with all sorts of objects she defined as unnecessary, and beside it she put a sign: “Free to a good nome. Take what you want.”

The lava lamp was the first to go. Scooped up by a couple of teenage boys on bicycles.

Other “treasures” went more slowly, until soon all that remained were the books.

Giving away books will upset some of you.

You know who you are.

You post things on Facebook like: “I WILL clean my house today. Ooh look! A book!”

“Bibliobibuli: noun (m) The sort of people who read too much.”

And my personal favorite, the salacious cover of Bibliobimbo. A “novel” about a librarian who was “depraved by an unbridled lust for rare books.”

The books going out on the table reflected years of family and friends coming down to the coast with “beach reads,” which they left behind for someone else to enjoy. Novels that were read while sitting by the shore — James A. Michener, Pat Conroy, John Grisham and such — children’s books now outgrown, and books our son had been forced to read by mean teachers (Brave New World, etc.). The table groaned with rejects.

Not everything went. My collection of Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey lunatic thrillers stayed on the shelves with my wife’s favorites — Cassandra King romances and the humor of Celia Rivenbark.

Meanwhile, outside, people saw the sign, began to stop, look and pick out a few.

The children’s books went fast — gotta keep the little tykes entertained.

Then the novels.

It was fun to stand by and talk with the folks who came to scavenge.

A couple of teenage girls looked over the lot and saw one by Joseph Heller.

“Isn’t that the guy who wrote Catch 22?” one of them asked.

“Yes,” I said.

She muttered, “I hated that book,” and moved on.

In the 1970s, I got hooked on English detective novels. I got over it. So when I found a complete collection of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, I happily let them go. A young woman with Anglophobic leanings inquired about them. When I explained their Englishness, she took the whole lot.

Also on the table was 50 Shades of Grey, which I suspect was purchased by a guest to see what the fuss was all about and left behind when they found out. The same teenage girl who rejected Joseph Heller took a pass on 50 Shades, but for a different reason.

“Already have it,” she said.

Steadily they dribbled out until, finally, only one was left — The Population Bomb (1968), by Paul Ehrlich and his wife, who he failed to credit for her contribution.

It was one of those books assigned by young college professors in the ’60s and ’70s, professors who only yesterday were students themselves and who felt they needed to show their only slightly younger charges just how cool and “with it” they were.

Throw in Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and Charles A. Reich’s The Greening of America (both published in 1970) and you have half of the reading list for Sociology 101, circa 1975.

Toffler wrote of the effect that “too much change in too short a period of time” would have on society. The Ehrlich(s) argued that without population control, the future was bleak. And Reich predicted the rise of a generation that would revolutionize society and, ultimately, politics.

How much impact did these books have?

Can’t say.

What I can say is that in this small survey of what books people will take off a “free to a good home” table, The Population Bomb was left behind. I suspect Toffler’s and Reich’s tomes would not have been picked up, either.

That tells us something.

Maybe.

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