Thomas Beard was sitting at a desk the other day, in a small room at the back of Light Industry, a movie and electronic arts venue he co-founded. A vase of yellow tulips was in front of him. In April, Light Industry will move to new premises, and in the meantime, Beard has decided to use the back room for an unusual project: to sell all of his books. The idea of letting go of his collection, amassed for twenty years and largely kept in reserve, came to him during the pandemic. “I realized I would never have an apartment big enough for all those books unless I had a rich husband, and I’m not one to get married,” said Beard, who is 37. year. He gestured to the dozen Ikea Billy bookcases that lined the walls and were neatly filled with thousands of volumes. “The books were locked up like a dowry, and I wanted them to have a life in the world.”
And so: Monday night books. “I figured I could do it one night a week,” he said. “It seemed perfect.” With neat, side-parted hair, a dark cardigan and a brown knit tie, Beard looked like an early ’60s commercial on a weekend morning. “It’s not really a business, it’s an idle garage sale,” he continued. “When the books are gone, I’ll close up shop.” The only items he decided to keep are his working library of movie books and his cookbooks. “But only real cookbooks!” he precised. “Like, Elizabeth David’s ‘Harvest of the Cold Months: A Social History of Ice and Ice Cream’? This is here.”
The performance-art aspect of the project is matched only by the idiosyncrasy of the inventory. “To run a surviving second-hand bookstore, you have to buy a bunch of copies of ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ for a dollar each,” Beard said. There’s none of that at Monday Night Books. Instead, the shelves—arranged in no particular order—follow Beard’s intellectual development and interests, from his teenage years in South Carolina (“I remember reading that copy of ‘Of Human Bondage’ after the ‘football training’) until his years. at the University of Texas at Austin (“I discovered Elizabeth Hardwick on the wallet at Half Price Books”) and beyond. (“I’ve been rummaging through second-hand bookstores for hours and hours all over the world for all these things, like this copy of ‘Deadly Innocents: Portraits of Children Who Kill.'”) “There’s a lot of what, if you were using an extended definition you would call ‘gay shit,'” he said. “But also a lot more medieval stuff than I would have thought, and a lot of Southern history. New York history is also fairly well represented, and certainly art and music, and also, inexplicably, “several tramp books.”
Just weeks into the project, stock had already been reduced by hundreds of volumes, and the space was bustling with masked shoppers eagerly browsing the wares, like hypebeasts at a limited-edition sneaker sale. Jasmine Sanders, a writer, was trying to decide whether to supplement her stack — which included Paul Gilroy’s “The Black Atlantic” and a volume of plays by Adrienne Kennedy — with a collection of letters by Emily Dickinson or with a book of essays by Wayne Koestenbaum. (Beard: “I love Wayne, but, I mean, Dickinson is a fucking genius.”) . Tobi Haslett, a writer, was talking about a book by Dennis Cooper. “I never really liked it, but I might try again,” he said. Another customer was more enthusiastic. “I just read the whole cycle of George Miles at work,” he told Beard, referring to Cooper’s series of five novels about queer sex and violence.
Haslett could understand Beard’s impulse to a radical surrender. “I really should get rid of some of my books,” he said. “But then, it almost seems sinful to be, like, ‘Oh, now I’m not going to own a copy of ‘Minima Moralia,'” by Theodor Adorno. “Like, what am I, a Nazi ?” He’s laughing.
Beard’s view was more philosophical. “Nothing has really disappeared,” he said. “If I want to read, say, Rosa Luxemburg’s letters, I can always go to the library and get them out.” He shook his head. “When people talk to me about Marie Kondo, I tell them that’s not it. Usually the goal is to get rid of things you don’t like, but I’m selling these books because I love them.” He gazed fondly at the shelves. “Reading ‘Go Down, Moses’ in high school was one of the most important aesthetic experiences of my life, so you’d think when I sold the very copy that I studied as a teenager, I would have felt some regret. But, in fact, it is the opposite. I’m so excited that someone else has this book. ♦