Column: Mourning the loss of a bookstore that provided such riches for the mind

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 12, 2006

Love Cruikshank, Love notes

And did you make it over to the book sale today at what for 17 years has been the Constant Reader Bookstore? I envy you, if you did. The sale was a project of Friends of the Library. The group was given whatever books remained from the retirement sale that closed the well-loved bookstore.

Friends were allowed to use the store rather than moving the books. The sale started at 9 a.m. today and will continue tomorrow from 9 a.m. until two.

There was a time when I never missed book sale. I still think of them as a blessing to every reader within shopping distance.

I dare say I would have accomplished more in my life had I read less. But what a lot I’d have missed. Even now in my senior years I remember my first Christmas, when I had just turned 3, because of the three books among my presents.

It was probably the same year I was taken for the first time to the public library in my home town. That was indeed an event. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about the library.

&8220;Full of books,&8221; I was told. I couldn’t believe it.

&8220;As soon as you’ve learned not to talk all the time,&8221; promised my mother, &8220;and have learned to walk quietly not jumping and skipping about I’ll take you to visit the library.&8221;

I could hardly wait. The visit came in early fall, a few weeks before my third birthday. No need to tell me to be quiet and composed. I remember yet the lovely scent of the books and the books themselves, standing in all their glory on the shelves.

Talk? Laugh? Romp about? Impossible. Being there was like being in Sunday School. The reverence was not imposed. It was within. I was led to the children’s section and allowed to choose my own book to carry home and have read to me.

I remember that, too. &8220;The Roly-Poly Pudding&8221; (Beatrix Potter). I can tell you that my father was not pleased when we came home with that. I think he expected me to choose something a bit deeper. Possibly &8220;War and Peace.&8221;

I was fortunate in having reading relatives on both sides. More important they remembered and they shared. I knew about my father’s little terrier, Dewey. Named, he was for Admiral John Dewey, hero of the Spanish – American War.

While learning about the dog of my father’s childhood, I also learned a bit of American history, all about how we bravely saved &8220;poor little Cuba&8221; from the brutal Spanish tyrants. Years later teaching swimming and boating at a YWCA Camp, I encountered our international guest from Cuba and learned that they had been happier with the Spanish than they were with us.

Still later I took a class in the methods of propaganda and learned how cleverly we were led to support that war. Mark Twain was wrong. There’s always a good and holy reason for a war: to free the slaves, to protect poor little Cuba, the war to end wars, to establish the four freedoms, to defend us from the Communists, I’m not sure what the aims of the conflict in Iraq are. Perhaps to establish Democracy there. Even if we have to wire tap and investigate our neighbors to do it.

But I digress. I’m talking about stories and hearing or reading them. Recently I’ve been re-reading a book received not this Christmas, but on another Christmas. I’m reading about the end of the Roman Empire.

Some reasons: &8220;The changing character of the native population, brought about through unremarked pressures on porous borders; the creation of an increasingly unwieldy and rigid bureaucracy, whose own survival becomes its overriding goal … the lip service paid to values long since dead, the pretense that we still are what we once were, the increasing concentration of the populace into richer and poorer by way of a corrupt tax system and the desperation that inevitably follows, the aggrandizement of executive power at the expense of the legislature …&8221;

There’s more, much more. Books are more than pastime for a leisure hour. That’s why people like me mourn the loss of a bookstore that provided such riches for the mind.

There is still an opportunity to check what Constant Reader still has to offer tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Books given to Friends of the Library for the sale are a final gift from the store.

There are a great many of us who will miss the store and the wonderful people who worked in it. We are grateful for their years of devotion, but we will miss them.

(Albert Lea resident Love Cruikshank’s column appears on Thursdays.)