Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Antique Argument

by
Scott D. Parker

I’ve spent some time touring Houston (my hometown and where I live) this week, kind of a stay-cation type thing. Went up to Brenham and visited the Blue Bell Creamery, down to Alvin (Bill Crider’s neck of the woods) and visited the wildlife animal park, and then went to the beach at Galveston yesterday. Had a great time with the family and, even though school starts the day after tomorrow, I still cling to the last threads of the summer state of mind until Labor Day.

My wife and I made an interesting discovery this week: our boy enjoys looking at antiques. Everywhere we went, we stepped inside antique stores. The best one, by far, is the Antique Mall in Alvin. Fantastic facility. Huge selection of just about anything you’d want. Even had a great--and I mean great--booth full of old paperbacks, Ace doubles, and lots of bins of old-school pulp magazines. It was heaven, and I found yet another A. A. Fair book.

The thing I enjoy is the memory trip I take when perusing an antique store. I’m old enough now that much of the stuff I knew as a lad is considered antiques. What’s really neat is seeing things I actually owned: Houston Oilers mugs, Star Wars figures, albums, etc. I enjoy seeing these things, holding them, reveling in the memories, and telling my boy and wife about a “when I was growing up” moment.

This kind of memory excursion will be almost impossible with digital media. Sure, we’ll be able to remember what DVD we watched in the car on the family trip to Florida, but it won’t be quite the same thing. The more “stuff” that is available digitally, the less “stuff” we can hold in our hands. As cool as it was to see those old pulp magazines, there won’t be an “antiques” store for digital media. Well, let me rephrase that. There won’t be a physical location where you can stroll and browse. There will be search engines and lines of text to peruse. But it will not be the same thing.

I’m all about digital media. I love it. My paradigm for music has already changed so much so that I get irritated when I have to buy a CD to get something I want. I don’t necessarily have a drive to own movies. I’m content to buy the very special ones and rent the rest. Books are the exception. For as much as I love ebooks--and for every *new* book that comes out, I’m more liable to buy the e-version; old books still come only in the old way--there really is something to holding an old paperback.

What I particularly enjoy about browsing the aisles of an antique store is the treasure hunt, the stumbling upon something you were not actively seeking. The A. A. Fair books (Erle Stanley Gardner’s pen name) are my particular darlings at the moment. I know I can pop online right now and order all the ones I don’t have. But I don’t. I carry around a complete list of the Bertha Cool and Donald Lam books with me (on paper, in my wallet) so I know the ones I have and the ones I don’t. And, I’m reading them in order. Just yesterday, in Galveston, I found Number 9, Give’em the Axe. I actually found three others I need, but left them on the shelf. I’ll get to them when I get to them. I’m weird that way. I want to be surprised someday in the future when I’m really looking for one more Cool and Lam novel and it finds its way into my hands. That’s a priceless feeling.

And one you can’t get from an ebook, with a searchable database, and everything instantly available. I’m not lamenting the future, mind you. There’s a lot to look forward to with electronic media and, frankly, I’m pretty excited about it. But I also love putting on the imaginary pith helmet, looking for that lost treasure I never knew I wanted, and taking a trip down memory lane I get every time I step into an antique store. That’s one thing I’ll miss in thirty years...and my boy will miss it, too, when he takes his child to an antique store and the artifacts from his life are all in some electronic device that no longer works. Makes me wonder if we’ll lose some of our acquired knowledge if all the servers one day stop running.

4 comments:

David Cranmer said...

Congrats on the rare book find and getting your kids involved in antique stores as well.

Naomi Johnson said...

There's nothing comparable to finding an old Cool & Lam mystery. Even when you already own them all, as I do.

Bill Crider said...

You shoulda called. Those pbs and pulps in the antique mall are over-priced, though.

Scott Parker said...

David - Still surprises me. In fact, yesterday, my boy told me *he* wanted to go antiquing.

Naomi - I just finished #2 (Turn up the heat) this morning. Even better than the first.

Bill - I thought some of those pbs were overpriced. I left a $7 Wade Miller (The Killers) and a $4 Day Keene. We ate at and loved Julia's Family Kitchen.