Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Book (Ramblings of Madness)

I have a great respect for books. It's something I learned growing up, where books were expensive, hard to get and often destroyed by my siblings. Before the Internet, books were hidden knowledge, and as a boy, they were a gateway that may or may not get past the gatekeeper (my mother). At one point my mother made me return my copy of Eldritch Wizardry because of the cover. I had to make the bike ride of shame back to the cookware store where I bought it. The distinct smell of cookware stores will always mean Dungeons & Dragons to me.

I still have books on bodyguards and knife fighting (in Japanese) I bought at the martial arts store and hid under a desk drawer in my bedroom, next to a pair of Bruce Lee nunchaku and some shuriken (my juvenile record has been expunged, thank you very much).

Books are also something I learned to venerate from spiritual traditions, growing up Catholic and finding my way to Buddhism. In Buddhism, for example, you don't place books on the floor, step over them, or put them where people sit. It's not just ritual, it's a reminder of the value of the text, basically instructions on how to not have a horrible life. Maybe get that 2,500 year old text up off the floor.

In grad school, my dog ate my Tibetan dictionary. It was my prized Jaschke from India and probably had some tasty animal derived glue on the binding. She basically licked it to death. I kept using it though, carefully opening it with half the binding gone. I felt guilty and the least I could do was continue to employ my dog licked dictionary, a sign of my own carelessness in letting her get to it. I still have it on a shelf, mangled, discolored and smelling of dog mouth and animal glue. Back then, there were three Tibetan dictionaries available (we were told) and you had to know someone who knew someone to acquire one. Teachers were invaluable for this. Today you can get a Kindle edition Jaschke for ninety nine cents.

My gaming history is mostly role playing games, and I still have my original Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide, covered in tape with the inside cover sporting Wacky Pack stickers, like Hiccups' Milk of Amnesia (respect is learned over time, it seems). My Monster Manual has the line drawing monsters embarrassingly filled in with colored pencils. My son asked me why I kept such beat up books, and it was hard to describe the value of a text to a boy who has a vast amount of human knowledge at his fingertips in a pound and a half electronic tablet, at least the knowledge a ten year old needs. Bootleg AD&D PDFs can be found and downloaded in about 90 seconds, if he so desired.

My veneration of books took a hit shortly after opening the store. The D20 boom led to a glut and I was buying pallets of books from Marcus King by the pound. It came out to something like fifty cents a book, which I then flipped in the store for a few bucks. Great margin and happy customers. Not only did I buy my venerated texts in bulk, but I profited handsomely from it. If I were someone who believed in a soul, this is where the process of losing it would have begun.

We've been buying used RPG books since we opened 11 years ago, and 2015 was the year of the purge. With an expansion or a move in the works (looking more like a move), we needed the space they took up. After our expansion activities, we planned to resume buying them.

The stuff was never inventoried and honestly, if the tax man asked me how much value was there, I would have said zero and carted them to recycling before his eyes. To paraphrase a well known game trade deposition, it's just paper. Because they weren't inventoried, there was a lot of what we ended up calling sludge on those shelves, a decade of unloved crap that nobody wanted and probably was never very good. A full bookshelf of new RPG books is worth approximately $12,000. Used RPG books? The blue can is over there.

We grab books off the shelf, mark them down to the nearest denomination of $1, $5, or $10, and put them in bins. A month later, like turning compost, we re-price them down to the next price point, moving them to the next bucket over. The $1 books get put in recycling. It pains me to do it, but they really have no value. Plus, the most picky, obtuse and irritating customer you'll ever find is the one who comes for free stuff. Can you take a photo? Can you tell me what edition that is? Are you brain damaged? It's free. Free things cost gas and time, unfortunately, so people are picky.

Today, most of what's in the $1 bucket is unpopular White Wolf setting materials, like Vampire: Dark Ages. I would like to think there's a "circle of life" kind of thing going on and all books will one day end up in the dollar bin. There are quite a few venerated texts of the Pathfinder variety in the $5 bucket that may make it there soon.

The boy had been using my iPad far more than me, and on his birthday in March, I walked over to him, took my iPad from his tight grasp, and handed it right back to him. This is yours now. He's now a cyborg with that thing connected to him at all times, including a power brick that he carries in a pocket to handle his range anxiety. He doesn't do as much reading as I would like, but it's not because he doesn't have dozens of books on that thing. They're just competing with so much else.

Me? I'm back to print books. I just finished reading The Golden Compass and I've just started One Second After. Next to my bed is an embarrassing stack of books to read, ranging from fantasy to survival to business. It occurred to me that the stack is a psychological burden and what a relief it will be one day to have it go away, that is, if it doesn't fall over and crush me in my sleep.

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