Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2006 Issue

Retirement is a Four Letter Word

If we are not busy being born we are busy dying.


By Bruce McKinney

On turning 60 -- Sixty I'm told is kind of old but I beg to differ. From where I sit, and yes I sit, this feels like the catbird seat and I'm the cat, not the bird. What matters, of course, more than numbers is the intellectual stimulation that keeps us engaged. These days I have my hands full with the ever evolving possibilities and challenges of AE, tasks Byzantine enough to ensure full employment for several more decades. It's what I need to live. Too often we succumb to thinking that retirement is the goal. It's at most the baton handoff to the next and sometimes final lap. Life is a race we want to run, not watch because, in the final analysis it's the race that keeps us alive.

Retirement has its place and you can identify it by the stones laid out in rows. Many seniors [you're one if you get a discount at the movies] do jobs they do not like but stay because it's familiar, the pay and benefits satisfactory. For those in this circumstance the next stage will in time become the welcome option and hopefully not the final choice. After all, not doing the same old job is not the same as giving up. It's simply a shift. For all of us, by whatever routes we arrive at these gates of change, these final chapters will read better if we are intellectually engaged.

The very good news for those involved with books is that remarkable, if different opportunities, are every day emerging. These new ideas are lions roaming where for decades only squirrels were found. What was thought seismically stable is in fact the Vesuvius of our generation: the transforming awareness, display, market and marketing of books electronically. To us, to some the over-the-hill gang, falls the opportunity to pan the nuggets, map the fields and file the claims to what is becoming an interesting amalgam of the very old and the very new -- in the emerging world of printed material.

Why us? It's true the race is to the swiftest but it is also to the interested. Technologically we do not match up with rank and file youth but never mind because they aren't interested in this opportunity and don't think over-much about books and history. They will of course in time be as avid and committed as we are. For the time being though their disinterest is useful for it leaves the field open to we who have the knowledge to shape the field for future generations.

So, as I turn 60, I see an interesting opportunity. The world of rare and collectible books daily comes more into view. In a sense we are all heirs to Columbus: every amateur and professional book person a spectator or participant to a story not yet written, simply unfolding. For those who love books, words, phrases and paper is there a better place to be than on the rim of Vesuvius as the world is transformed?

For myself all this is quite enough.

Rare Book Monthly

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