Book Free in D.C.

E on DC


After our books disappeared our names vanished. 

In my upstairs office at home are a stack of record albums that once belonged to my father. I no longer play them. I can quickly access every recording by Wes Montgomery or Carmen McRae on my computer. Maybe this would please my father if he was living. I remember the day he purchased a popular recording and was so excited about arriving home to play it. He placed it on the bed while changing his clothes. Either my sister or I was responsible for the record sliding off the bed, hitting the floor and hearing it make a non-musical sound. My father was outraged. I started running like Willie Mays – an invisible cap flying off my head.

Music should never be associated with bad memories unless it’s the blues.

I live in a house of books. The books I’ve written might one day be my children’s inheritance, but what about the others? When I die, where will these books go? Many of my friends who are writers have glorious collections. They have bookshelves filled with first editions, autographed novels by favorite authors and old textbooks with marginal handwritten notes on page after page. How many of these books will ever know a second life somewhere? How many will be removed from indoor “book gardens” and placed on a sidewalk corner in a brown paper box? Is this any way to bloom? Is there such a thing as a homeless book or book poverty?

Since last June the number of books I’ve purchased from local bookstores has plunged into single digits. I still mourn for the days spent with Todd Stewart and Bridget Warren at Vertigo, when it was located at Dupont Circle. The good news is that I frequent the public libraries as often as I did when I was a young boy growing up in the South Bronx. I’ve always loved libraries and supported them.

Was the first woman I fell in love with a librarian?

One of the wonderful things about DC these days is its neighborhood libraries. 

I’m always at the Takoma Park branch. Our libraries have now become citizen hubs of social activity, sacred places celebrating diversity and preserving democracy. Here the elderly sit side by side with the young, the unemployed next to the professionals. At the library, things are still free. 

Being a literary activist, one of my major concerns is the preservation of items.

My personal collection is housed at the Gelman Library at The George Washington University. Along with books, I have a passion for keeping correspondence, flyers and posters. I don’t want to destroy history or forget it by placing it in the garbage bin. I’m certain ebooks will have their time and place and slowly it seems to be now. But give me the sweet smell of paper, let me place my hand around the spine of a book and kiss the page. I don’t want to be seduced, I want to be loved.

Across the room, as I write this column, my father’s albums sit collecting dust. I have been a witness to the vanishing days of vinyl. I look at my book collection wondering what will endure. Why is death so visible at times?

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