Book Heaven

Where the world of books and life intersect

Location: South Amboy, New Jersey

I am deeply involved in trying to solve the discrepancy between being interested in zen and trying to acquire all the things I've been accumulating

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Rescuing Books

We all dream of being involved in great adventures and while this tale is not exactly on a par with Howard Carter's discovery of King Tut's tomb, it is no less exhilirating in its own understated way. When a twenty three year old student noticed that Yiddish books were being thrown away at an alarming rate by a younger generation that didn't have any interest in them, he set out on an improbable rescue mission that had no shortage of drama, resulting in a heartwarming book entitled Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books (Algonquin Books, 2004). It was actually a million and a half books, and when the dust and mold had settled, Aaron Lansky had not only rescued an entire species of literature -- he then proceeded to find a way to get the books into the hands of people like himself, people who had been searching for the books at the very time that they were being thrown away.

In this highly recommended wild ride, you'll find him rescuing books from dumpsters, matching wits with a bookstore owner who steadfastly refused to sell the mountain of Yiddish books that had been sitting in the middle of his floor for years, and trying unsuccessfully to convince a Catskills resort owner that he was really only looking for books not performing a bizarre stand up comedy routine. You'll meet the unforgettable Ostroff from Sea Gate, a plumber from Brooklyn by way of Russia who preceded George Plimpton by forty years in hosting an entirely different constellation of literary greats. You'll learn that the most dangerous job in rescuing books is not the backbreaking lifting or inhaling years of accumulated dust and mold but the position of "designated eater," a job fraught with its own unique brand of danger.

The book can be summed up best in one quote that echoed through many of Lansky's encounters with the owners of the books: "he was handing me not merely his books but his world." There is an entire world contained within the pages of this book and it will stay with you long after you've turned the final page.

A great book about books. File it next to Nicholson Baker's Double Fold.


Blogger Bill said...

I'm betting that you identified strongly with the "rescuing books from dumpsters" section. Sounds like a wonderful book.

7:05 AM  

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