Bruce in the Packet

102. The Book Swap

Saturday afternoon, I met Steve midway between his home and mine. We had a successful book swap and it was glorious spending a few minutes with a friend in three dimensions. It was something we have not been able to do since lockdown began. We shared a stone bench sitting six feet apart, maybe five and a half. This was in a little park at the south end of the Smart Bridge. The Smart Bridge is a pedestrian bridge across the Great Western Railroad. It connects the Capital Quarter offices and student housing on the south side with the University of South Wales and the rest of City Centre on the north, the side I was coming from. Steve walked the greater distance, respecting the arthritis in my feet.

We had earlier swapped via the internet photographs of the books we wanted to dispose of to make room on our shelves. These were books we planned to donate to Troutmart Books once they reopened, hopefully for credit. From my books he selected Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes by Patricia Highsmith and Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. I included a third book, Christopher McDougall’s Running with Sherman, but that one he has to return.

I took into possession four books. The first was Michael Palin’s Travelling to Work: Diaries 1988-98. I was with Steve when he bought the book. We had accompanied our mutual friend Sara on a shopping jaunt to the thrift shops of Penarth. I thought I was the first to discover the book in the British Red Cross Shop, yet Steve remembers that he saw it first, only he put it back because maybe he already had it. When I discovered it and extracted it from the shelf, he panicked. I, too, returned it to the shelf to give it more thought. It was a fat book and therefore a commitment. Relieved, Steve retrieved it and was happy – until he reached home and discovered he did indeed already have it. So now it was mine at no cost.

The second book I acquired from our swap was a never used calendar issued by The Folio Society and, thus, was heavily illustrated. It was three years old. I have since taken it apart, cutting the stitching and removing the signatures. I was able to rescue the majority of the leaves. A few were caked with too much glue from the spine. The leaves were of a small size and from them I made small decorative envelopes to carry letters to my many snailors (friends with whom I correspond via snail mail).

The third book was a thin paperback, The Guardian Book of English Language.

The fourth book he was returning. It was a copy of The Circus of Doctor Lao by Charles G. Finney, with illustrations by Gordon Noel Fish. This version I later inscribed and sent to another friend as a gift. I own still another version, a paperback with the original illustrator, Boris Artzybasheff. I bought it to be able to loan it to friends. At this time it sojourns with a brother-in-law. Two other copies I had ordered on Amazon US and had them shipped directly to friends in Washington State and Massachusetts. A final copy, my copy that I will not part with, was published by the Limited Editions Club and is illustrated by Claire Van Vliet. Somewhere in the world, perhaps in my daughter’s house, is a lost sketchbook which contains my own illustrations for The Circus of Doctor Lao, the scene where Apollonius of Tyana tells his client her true fortune. This 1935 fantasy novel had a significant influence on me and I feel it has been underappreciated and overlooked.

Among the books, Steve was also allowing me to borrow five DVDs, a collection of ten films by the Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu.

We sat together longer than was necessary to complete the swap, discussing books and movies and rude people we had observed not keeping to the relaxed instructions for the lockdown. We both had face masks, but weren’t wearing them. He was drinking coffee. I brought a mask for later, when I would be grocery shopping in a small corner Sainsbury’s. If nothing else, it was the threat of rain that concluded our meeting.

Having the books and movies secured inside my rucksack, I was off to my favorite Sainsbury’s as the sky began spitting. First food for thought, then food for digestion. Metaphorically speaking, we digest books and then ruminate on what we have read. I found myself pondering this metaphor, metabolism versus mentation. Food is the transfer of energy for consumption and depletes the energy from its source. Books are the transfer of ideas for contemplation and do not deplete its source. Books are an infinite battery for ideas and inspiration, and that night I was satiated.

Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions,
he would be pleased to hear from you. 

You can find his several books at Enshrined Inside Me, his second collection of essays, is now available to purchase.