Ah, the Take Home shelves, the endless rows of free books that cause the shelves to strain and groan! There for the taking, the picking, all that they ask is for you pause and run your gaze along their endless spines and find the gems buried amidst the trash.

My floor (the 2nd, with a view from the cafeteria down and over the vast and sweeping lobby below) has crap Take Home shelves. We get the mass market trash, the effluvium that doesn’t sell, and isn’t quite worth burning. I’ve trawled the fat cat books, random Fantasy series (of which of course you can only find #’s 3, 7, and 8), outdated catalogues, romance novels, cloak and dagger Cold War spy routines.

But! As I passed the closed door of a top flight exec, I heard the mumble and mutter of guarded voices, and paused to listen. I heard but a snatch of conversation, a fragment in which voices alluded to hidden Take Home bins located in the basement, set aside by the august Penguin Librarians, deep, deep in the dark. I tiptoed back to my office, and eyes agleam (probably due to the overdose of mocha), I girded my loins and descended into the bowels of the building.

And what a haul! I felt like Bilbo fleeing Smaug’s cave, running and tripping, laden with books and novels and tomes, expecting the ire of the terrifying and cadaverous Librarians at my heels at any second. But no – I gained the stairwell, and fled back up into the light, my loot cradled in my arms. And what loot! I’ve salvaged some eight books from below, and have them towered up before me on my desk. They are:

Venus in Furs, by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch. What a name! “Hello, we’d like a table for two. It’s a twenty five minute wait? No problem. My name? LEOPOLD VON SACHER-MASOCH.” Ha! The blurb on the back reads: A shocking exploration of masochism, narcissism, and sexual power, Venus in Furs brought instant notoriety to its author for its unprecedented portrayal of a man who passionately makes himself the slave of the woman he loves.” Brilliant! I’ll be sure to read it aloud while riding the metro to work.

Next: The Portable Milton. Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes, and his earlier poems. Enough said there.

I also snagged Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland (A Romance of Many Dimensions), of which I’ve heard much and even, I think, read an excerpt. It’s a clever mathematical fantasy in which Abbot explores life in a two-dimensional world. “All existence is limited to length and breadth in Flatland, its inhabitants unable to imagine a third dimension. But when a strange visitor mysteriously appears and transports our incredulous narrator to the Land of Three Dimensions, his worldview is forever shattered.” I hear the movie rights have already been secured, and its going to star Jim Carrey and Madonna. Huzzah!

Then I have a behemoth of a book, black and white and crimson cover entitled: STALINGRAD (The Fateful Siege: 1942 – 1943). Everybody knows that the shit hit the fan in Russia when Hitler invaded, that an unprecedented number of people died in that battle, that it was ghastly and inhuman and terrifying and remote. And that’s about as much as -I- know, at any rate, and I picked it up figuring that I should read into it. Learn about a battle that claimed more than a million lives. “As a story of cruelty, courage, and human suffering, Stalingrad is unprecedented and unforgettable.” Sign me up.

Next is Joseph Campbell’s “The Masks of God”. Caitlin R. Kiernan acknowledged Campbell’s influence in her dedication to SILK, and anything that furthers my knowledge of mythology and the like can only be for the better. Plus the book’s free. So.

Carlos Fuentes’ slender “La Muerte de Artemio Cruz” is next, and it’s the only book in this pile that I’ve already read. It was a disturbing, powerful and haunting book, and I realized as I picked it up that I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it’s about. It’s contents, characters, plot – all forgotten. So I’ll read it again. See if it strikes me as it did the second time round.

Then I have a gorgeous copy of Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s “The Worst Journey in the World”, his first person account of Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. Ranked first in National Geographic’s list of the one hundred greatest adventure books of all time, it feeds into the fascination which my first readings of Shackleton’s journeys sparked. For courage and dire peril you can’t beat a journey to the South Pole in 1910. Unless, of course, you sign up to go fight in Stalingrad.

Or partake in The Great Influenza, the subject of my last book by John M. Barry (whom I confused for a moment with J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan). It details the struggles and bravery of the doctors who put their lives on the line as the bodies piled up about them, victims of a disease that claimed anywhere from 50 to 100 million lives in 1918. That’s 50 – 100 Stalingrads! Or, 10,000,000 to 20,000,000 expeditions to the Antarctic by Robert Falcon Scott.

How’s that for a haul? I’m going to have to put my reading hat on and get to business. I already have William Gibson’s “Spook Country” lined up, followed by Warren Ellis’ Jagged Little Vein and three other books by Caitlin R. Kiernan. Pressure’s on. I’m going to have to cancel my social plans, call in sick and get to work. Or I’ll be in real trouble when I head down to the basement again next week.