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Sam Bauman: Reading before gifting books is a trip into past

Sam Bauman

One nice thing about senior relocating is that it forces you to make choices that you hadn’t considered for a long time. My recent move brought many such options up, not the least of which was what to do with all the books I had collected, perhaps 400 or so. I’d lugged these books from Japan to Europe to Los Angles back to Chicago and eventually up here.

So which do I keep? Good, if difficult, question for a senior already stressed out by the move. I started taking the books off the shelf, pausing when one struck a memory or made me wonder when was the last time I’d read it. Early on I came across an old book, “Five Women who Loved Love,” by Ihara Saikaku first published in the 17th century. It was less-than-exciting reading now, but it did trigger memories of studying Japanese at the Naganuma Japanese Language School in Tokyo. Marvelous memories of struggling to learn the 102 characters each in katakana, hiragana, Romangi and kanji, the last being the characters borrowed from the Chinese but given different meanings. Katakan was printed characters and used for foreign things such as names; hiragana was cursive for use with kanji; and Romange used Roman characters when nothing else would do. Anyhow, that one book summoned a wealth of pleasant memories.

I next discarded several volumes before I came to one that stopped me cold — Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” Memories of reading it in college, then again in the Air Force. It’s a short novel, 250 pages. Back then it was exotic, but now it was less exotic after my own experiences of living in Europe.

Next to it was Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” a classic study of the futility of war and love. The book was a bible to me at one time, particularly when I was working in Italy and visited some of the novel’s scenes, such as Caporetto, where the Italian army was destroyed by Austrian troops and made a mad retreat. The ossuary was still there, a pile of the bones of the many casualties. I never did find the site of the opening chapter of the novel, where Hemingway foretold the whole story in one taut scene of a dusty road and troops marching along.

Memories I hadn’t thought of for a long time, all triggered by books.

But the best was yet to come — “Modern American and English Poetry.” As a journalist on the rise I never paid much attention to poetry, but the college class in which this was the text was a revelation to me. I parsed T.S. Eliot, Carl Sandburg and all the rest, memorized many poems (good for inducing emotions in coeds). This was at Ohio University, where tuition was $75 a semester and beer was 25 cents. I even tried writing poetry and wound up after graduation winning an OU poetry annual award for a poem the title of which I don’t remember. But I do recall the $75 that went with the award.

I was getting down to the end of the bookshelf now and that stack of discards had grown; did I ever think I would read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”? Nope. Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Lost”? Did it once and got all bogged down in French nuances. But there was one book that really stirred senior memories, long forgotten. A book few have read, I think, Samuel Chamberlain’s “Bouquet of France,” a combination travel-cook book that listed all the three-star restaurants of France. In those days (1960s-’70s) restaurant critics carried this book with them when they went a restaurant and had the chef autograph it. I along with a couple of newspaper friends did just that, starting at the Aux Armes de France in Ammerschwihr. We stayed the night in the small hotel attached to the restaurant and the next day traveled the Route de Vin of Alsace, remembering the fine dinner with Alsatian wine and freshly caught turbot from the Rhine.

All those memories and more for a senior who had forgotten much of his past from just selecting books before tossing them out.

Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.