Friday, March 09, 2007

The Trash Man Almost Cometh

Thanks to an alert family from Vienna, Virginia, a set of 100-year-old books on the Ulster O'Neils has been safely returned to Ireland where the books are much appreciated. In fact, the Belfast Telegraph considers this to be a newsworthy event.

The O'Neill books by Thomas Mathews, from the house of Sealy, Bryers & Walker in the Southern capital, had been tossed into four cardboard boxes outside a Victorian house along with first editions, unwanted anthologies, paperback classics and a vintage copy of Ulysses and collections of poetry by WB Yeats.

But before the binmen arrived book lover Pam O'Connor, passing by, spotted the treasure trove of literature and saved the lot for posterity.

She loaded the four boxes into her car and took them home, where she and her family examined the unwanted hoard which she found out had been the property of James C O'Neill, a professor of romance languages at the University of Michigan, who had died.

Whoever cleared the O'Neill house was obviously uninterested in the value of the books.
Mr Swindall, whose JIRI Books company promotes the Belfast Book Fair every November, contacted Mrs O'Connor through an internet website and persuaded her to let him have the O'Neill three-volume set.

"I'm sure there is an O'Neill out there who has been searching for this extremely rare set for years," he explained.

"The last time a similar set turned up and was catalogued by a local book dealer was 1986 and it was snapped up immediately."

Stories like this one make me cringe when I read them and realize just how close these books came to being destroyed out of sheer ignorance. While I realize that not everyone is a book lover, I do find it almost impossible to understand how anyone could be willing to trash anything of this age and beauty without at least first trying to find it a new home.

All of us, as is anyone who ever takes five minutes to read even one book blog or one book review, are in the process of building private libraries that are very important to us. Those libraries contain the books that have filled our lives with so much pleasure, some of them even having attained a reasonably dear monetary value at this point, and they represent who we are. Have you ever wondered what will happen to those books when you are no longer around to care for them and protect them? Will they end up being sold off at a buck a book in some garage sale or will they end up being boxed up for the trash collector? Or will you be one of the lucky ones who have a booklover in your family who will cherish your collection when you are gone? It may sound a bit strange, but I see signs in my 8-year-old granddaughter that such a person might have come along for me and I actually find that to be comforting.


  1. Hmm, I never even considered what will happen to my library when I'm gone. I won't have any descendants...

  2. It probably seems silly for me to be thinking about what will happen to a bunch of books that have so little monetary or historical value, Anee, but I'm kind of strange that way.

  3. No, I don't think it's silly at all. My previous coment, was that I'd never thought about it BEFORE, but now you've got me thinking about it and I'm worried - I'm afraid my books will end up thoughtlessly discarded or something.

  4. And it does seem a shame how easily exactly that can happen. I don't come from a family of readers but I know how much I would have appreciated "inheriting" a library from a previous generation. Of course, I have no idea where I would have put such a thing.