Thursday, January 06, 2005


I was in Gotham Book Mart in midtown Manhattan when I heard that Susan Sontag died. An employee shouted it to another employee clear across the store. I think I must have let out a gasp after hearing it, my immediate thought being that the loss of such an important intellectual icon would hit the city hard. Not too much later, while struggling to maintain a semblance of solipsistic aloofness in Times Square, the news flashed by on the ABC news ticker, with nary a sideways glance from the hordes of determined tourists in attendance. Had a sideways glance been effected, the response would have surely been negligible. Susan who?

Today I read that Sontag kept a collection of some 15,000 books in her Chelsea apartment. Oh, if only to be the bequeathed of what is undoubtedly a diverse and distinctive personal library. Whomever that fortunate recipient might be would be wise to curate the collection and make it accessible to those with an interest in material that has contributed to the edification of a great mind. It would be a remarkable addition to New York literary culture, and it would also pay homage to Sontag's position that form overshadows content. However, it is possible that Sontag would be fiercely opposed to such an idea, assuming that she held her books as dearly as one's own children, perhaps not wanting to surrender her private realm to the public one. I understand this: book collections are intensely personal things, and when I think ahead to the necessity of drawing up a last will and testament, I still have no answer for what is to become of my own collection of the written word.

To that person, I ask you this: Are you a worthy recipient? Will you respect the provenance of each volume or will you relegate the lot of them to some tawdry lawn sale? Will you intersperse them with your own collection [because you must, must, must also be a collector] or will you keep them separate, made distinct by some fashion of an ex libris or another [though my own diligence should dictate that I affix an ex libris plate or stamp to each before I exeunt]? Will they receive the honour of being housed in shelves, or will they be shamed into hiding inside mouldering cardboard boxes in a nether region of your dwelling? Will you sell them to a secondhand bookstore, or will you keep them as a reminder of me?

Susan, I'm sure you chose well.

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