Every Saturday morning my father-in-law Ted visits the Book Shed at our town landfill, a shed built by the townspeople where we can take books that we no longer need and pick up ones that others have left there. It is loosely organized into categories and we can use it like a lending library, except that the collection is ever-changing and there are no due dates. I accompany Ted whenever I can, and when I do, the trip is one of the highlights of my week.
Over the years I have made some astonishing finds, among them a copy of Richard Kim’s Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood (1970) signed by the author; a rare copy of Roots, the very first Asian American Studies reader, compiled in 1971 by student activists at UCLA (lent by a local Japanese American professor to a student who then left town and dumped it); and an 1886 edition of Lord Macaulay’s 1843 biography of Warren Hastings, the first British Governor-General of India. Equally exciting are the times when I have happened upon an entire collection, just dropped off by someone who shares my interests: a whole batch of novels written by contemporary British women, a collection of Indian English novels in their Indian editions, or some hardcover first editions of Doris Lessing works missing from my collection.
I knew I had it bad when, asked by some of my student to list my hobbies for a faculty directory, combing the Book Shed was chief among them. When I first discovered it, I was continually holding forth enthusiastically about my latest find at the dump, much to then-twelve year-old Nikhil’s embarrassment. “Landfill, Mom, landfill,” he would insist, “not dump,” as he squirmed at his friends’ impressions of his eccentric mother trawling through mounds of trash.
Nowadays my finds are fewer, because I drop by less often and so the dealers beat me to them, and because DPW-employed sorters go through the books as they are dropped off, skimming anything with resale value off the top, I suspect. But still, books on topics of particular interest seem to come to hand just at the time I need them.
Today I was able to join my father-in-law on his weekly foray for the first time in more than a month, and we both set out with anticipation, tote bags in hand. I had a large bag of books with me, for once sticking to my avowed principle of dropping off at least as many as I will pick up. Although the shed was better organized than usual, someone having labeled the shelves by category, the pickings were slim, and, as Ted noted, the labeling robbed us of some of the pleasure of the hunt. Still, I came away well pleased, with half a dozen titles for myself and a couple of books of poetry for Nikhil.
While scanning one of the general non-fiction shelves, I had happened to see a book on the heroes of September 11th, 2001, with a photograph of a man in a hardhat on the cover. Before moving on, my eyes lingered on it for just a moment as I noted the coincidence of finding it here on this ninth anniversary of the attacks in New York City on the World Trade Center’s twin towers.
On the drive home, my father-in-law told me about his monthly book group’s last meeting, for which they had re-read Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1952), and at which he had proposed a new interpretation of the play based on Vladimir’s line in Act 1:
Hand in hand from the top of the Eiffel Tower, among the first.
I won’t explain Ted’s whole idea here because he plans to write it up soon, but suffice it to say that he interpreted this line as a double suicide.
While Ted stopped to do his Saturday morning errands, I waited in the car, reading the poetry books. Flipping through The Best American Poetry 2003, I noted the inclusion of poems by some of Nikhil’s favorite poets. Among them was Galway Kinnell, whose selection, interestingly enough, was “When the Towers Fell”; another mention of the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Still waiting, I began to skim the other collection, In the Wake of Home (2004), by Christian McEwen, a poet hitherto unknown to me.
Her last poem was called, simply, “September 11, 2001.” This time I sat up and took notice: a third mention of this very day nine years ago. The poem was a litany of ordinary people caught up in the attacks—a few of whom had survived, most of whom had not—and how they had spent their last moments. And at the end of the fifth stanza, I came upon the following line, eerily echoing the very line in Waiting for Godot that my father-in-law had mentioned not five minutes before:
The two who jumped to their deaths holding each other by the hand.