If Ruth Clark never sold another book or made another dollar from her aptly-named Used Books For Sale enterprise on Gilbert Road in Williamstown, it wouldn’t matter in two important ways.
For one, Clark, 73, is just trying to get rid of many of her thousands of books so she doesn’t burden her children with them when she dies.
It’s not that the little money she gets for her beloved books isn’t a nice reward for her troubles sorting and stacking the titles since she started the book business this spring..
Clark doesn’t part with any of her books easily — they represent a lifetime of book-collecting as the daughter of a librarian and an all-around book lover.
“My goal was to get rid of a load of my books!” says Clark. “Of course,” she adds, smiling, “I like to look at them before I put them on the shelf.”
It’s clear that Clark isn’t in book sales for the money.
“This is my therapy, primarily,” Clark says, her voice getting softer and more serious as she shuffles through a stack of books, adding price tags at her kitchen table in the 19th-century farmhouse that doubles as her home and bookstore. “I’ve had big troubles in the family.”
“Big troubles,” in Clark’s case, may be an understatement.
Within a seven-month period two decades ago, Clark’s mother, Lillian, died of pancreatic cancer; her brother, John, was murdered in a Barre hotel; and her 18-year-old daughter, Andrea, was killed in a car wreck.
If that wasn’t enough, Clark tearfully explains that her husband, Dick, is in jail for pedophilia.
The emotional turmoil and raw tragedy nearly tore Clark apart, but she held on to anything that reminded her of the good parts of her life, and one of those good parts were books and a love of reading.
One of the first books she turned to was a biography of Mark Twain by Sterling North. She followed that read by another book about Twain. Clark loves the classics, biographies and romance novels.
“The books are something I turned to because it’s something I’ve valued all my life,” Clark says. “It’s mostly a comfort. It’s something to focus on, and it takes you away from your current stress. I lose myself in books.”
Clark doesn’t really know how many books she has, but the old farmhouse surely must creak under their weight.
On a recent day that I stopped by Used Books For Sale, it was clear there are many, many more books in the farmhouse than are lined up neatly on shelves in the kitchen, dining room, and living room, displayed neatly by category.
I saw one of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books on the shelf for sale and asked if Clark had the original “The Wizard of Oz,” and she went into another room and emerged with no less than five more of the Oz series, all but one beautiful hardcovers in good condition.
It may be, that like any person who hoards books it’s just impossible for Clark to keep track of them all in her head, and many are still in boxes.
But Clark may have a further challenge. She’s been having difficulty remembering things, and it’s been bothering her.
Just this past week, Clark said her doctor has issued her a preliminary diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
“That’s the latest hit I’ve taken,” she says, sounding almost out of breath.
Clark is scheduled for further brain function tests, including a brain scan. Meanwhile, pulling out old books, organizing, cataloguing, and stacking her shelves in the comfort of her own home gives her some peace of mind.
“This winter, I’m going to learn how to sell (books) on the Internet,” Clark says.
What if she sells all of her books? Then what?
“Oh, I think this will be something I will be on the rest of my life,” says Clark. She’s already accepted a box of books from a friend and has begun going through those titles, as well.
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