I have been a lifelong “biblioholic;” I began collecting boys’ sports books by age 7. Even if I lived to the biblical Methuselah’s 969 years, I could never read all the thousands of books scattered throughout my home.
During my adult life, it has been a rare week when I did not visit at least one new and a couple of used bookstores. As author Tom Raabe put it, I have “the habitual longing to purchase, read, store, admire and consume books in excess.” I have always been steadfast in resisting treatment for my unquenchable passion.
In my younger days, whenever I traveled to an academic conference, I took along an empty suitcase. I always had a shifting list in my mind of 700 to 800 books that I sought. I devoted at least one day perusing the cities’ best used bookstores. The internet ruined that pleasure. Now I can order any book I desire from anywhere in the world with a click of the mouse.
Twelve years ago, on my 65th birthday, I was diagnosed with a rare terminal cancer, carrying a medium survival rate of 14 months. I am long past my expiration date. That brush with mortality awakened me to the reality that neither I, nor my library, were immortal. It was time to begin gifting my books.
Pre-COVID, I held an annual book-gifting event. I invited a few hundred former students and friends to my home for two days of book scavenging. Each year, they took home between 600 and 800 books. Once a hungry, young mind found more than 100 volumes, another time someone gathered 75 worthy gifts. COVID willing, next spring I will resume my weekend event, offering at least 1,000 gifts.
Health issues have again plagued me during the past six months. I had heart surgery last summer, with three new stents inserted and two old ones unclogged. A couple of weeks later, I had a major epileptic seizure resulting in a 90-day hold on my driving privileges. The risk of a stroke is nearly three times higher in older patients who have a late-onset of epilepsy.
The Angel of Death has been my constant, menacing companion for 12 years. Now his rancid breath grows closer. In the back of my mind, I have always been collecting and curating books for the Metropolitan State University’s Library and Learning Center where I taught for nearly four decades. I retired last spring at age 76 as a professor emeritus. Originally a college without walls, they only built a library in 2004. For a university, it has a bare-bones collection.
Some university-library faculty colleagues are regularly coming to my home to cull roughly 2,500 rare and hard-to-find hardcover editions of classic works. I can think of no finer way to celebrate and honor my beloved Metro State’s 50th anniversary. With each volume bearing my donor’s stamp, I and my library will fittingly live on in a public sanctuary.
Monte Bute has been a bookish activist, writer and gadfly in Minnesota for 55 years.