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Leaving a literary legacy 

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.

Monte Bute shown with part of his vast book collection.
Monte Bute shown with part of his vast book collection.
Courtesy of Monte Bute

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.

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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.