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Good readers go on forever

When I heard of the death of Melvin Nussbaum, it was quite a shock. Even though he was 96, I thought he would go on forever. Reading, reading, reading.

Mr. Melvin was a wonderful customer of the book store. I would see him every few weeks, coming in with a big stuffed bag full of books, to trade in for another big stuffed bag full of books.

Mr. Melvin was an avid reader, the kind of reader that enjoys good stories and good writing.

He usually came in the bookstore either with his daughter or one of his grandchildren, helping him in and out of his wheelchair, in and out of the car.

He loved Westerns and mysteries. He also never forgot a story he had read. Once he had read it, he could remember the story line, almost word for word.

I would help him go through the stacks. “Now here, Mr. Melvin, is a great mystery. This author’s one of my favorites. I think you would really enjoy this story,” I would say.

He would take the book, look at the cover, read the short description on the back cover, and say, “Read that.”

And I never doubted his word.

We would go through the shelves, pulling out books. “Read that, read that, read that.”

“Now here’s a fairly new western writer,” I would offer. “Lots of men like to read his stories. Here’s one by Ralph Compton I think you would enjoy,” I would say.

“Read that.”

His daughter would say, “We all knew what to give daddy for his birthday. Books.”

Sometimes the books that he had been given as a birthday gift would be returned to the book store.

“Read that.”

Like a lot of men readers, Mr. Melvin enjoyed the World War II sagas written by W.E.B. Griffin. He also enjoyed the westerns of Louis L’Amour, as do most men readers. When I first purchased the book store in 1999, there were only a small hand-full of L’Amour books on the shelf. The guys would come in searching for his books, and would find only a few titles.

Come to find out, they hoarded them. By my constant brow-beating, I got a few fellows to relent and bring in their L’Amour books for trade. One fellow came in every few weeks from Alabama looking for L’Amour titles. They would always tell you that they were “collecting” them. They would have their lists of titles, those that they had and those they didn’t have.

“Give em up,” I would say.“ “What good are they gathering dust on the floor by your La-Z-Boy? I’ve got customers for them.”

The customer from Alabama volunteered that he kept his books in plastic low flat plastic containers under his bed, all categorized and in published order. “Do you read them again,” I asked.

“Oh no. Just keep them to maybe read again later.”

Well, I eventually wore them down, and slowly we began to get a good inventory of the Westerns.

After all, I told them, Mr. Melvin has read so many books, we need to find him some new titles.

“Read that, read that, read that.”

Drastic actions were needed. The fellow from Alabama came in one day with two big bags of books. “Ran out of room under the bed, and decided to trade in the ones I had two or three of,” he said.

So now I had discovered a new tactic. How many duplicate titles of Louis L’Amour books do you have, I asked the old timers. “Oh, I’ve got lots, they would say.

And so the collection began to grow.

Mr. Melvin would find a few among them that he had not read. Now I knew we were making progress.

Now, Mr. Melvin is gone. But today when I browse titles of books in the stacks in other bookstores, examine some of the Westerns or mysteries, I can feel his presence next to me.

“Read that,” I would somehow hear him say, and I would return the book to its rightful place on the shelf.

Jim Smith writes a weekly column for The Post-Searchlight. He can be reached through his website at: www.jimsopinions.com or email at: bainbooknook@yahoo.com.