Thomas Beard was recently sitting at a desk in a small room at the back of Light Industry, a film and electronic arts venue of which he is the founder. In front of him was a vase of yellow tulips. In April, Light Industry will be moving to new premises, and in the meantime, Beard has decided to use the back room for an unusual project: selling all of his books. During the pandemic, it occurred to him to let go of the collection he had accumulated and largely preserved for over twenty years. “I realized that unless I get a rich husband, I’ll never have an apartment big enough for all these books, and I’m not the type to get married,” said Beard, who is thirty-seven years old is. He pointed to the dozen or so IKEA Billy bookshelves lining the walls neatly filled with thousands of volumes. “The books were locked away 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 resembled an early ’60s advertising executive on a weekend morning. “This isn’t really a store — it’s a flea market in slow motion,” he continued. “When the books are gone, I’ll close the shop.” The only items he wants to keep are his work library of film books and his cookbooks. “But only real cookbooks!” he clarified. “Like Elizabeth David’s ‘Harvest of the Cold Months: A Social History of Ice and Ices’? That is here.”
The performance art aspect of the project corresponds to the idiosyncrasy of the inventory. “To run a viable antique shop, you have to buy a few copies of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle for a dollar each,” Beard said. Monday Night Books doesn’t have that. Instead, the shelves—arranged in no particular order—track Beard’s intellectual development and interests, from his teenage days in South Carolina (“I remember reading that issue of ‘Of Human Bondage’ after soccer practice”) through to his years at the University of Texas at Austin (“I discovered Elizabeth Hardwick on the dollar shelf at Half Price Books”) and beyond. (“I’ve spent hours digging through antique shops around the world for all these things, like this copy of ‘Deadly Innocents: Portraits of Children Who Kill’.”) With a broad definition, you’d call it ‘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 definitely art and music.” Also, inexplicably, “several books about vagrants”.
Just weeks into the project, inventory had already been reduced by hundreds of volumes, and the space was filled with masked customers eagerly flipping through the merchandise, like hypebeasts at a limited-edition sneaker drop. Jasmine Sanders, a writer, debated whether to top up her stack—which included Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic and a volume of plays by Adrienne Kennedy—with a collection of Emily Dickinson’s letters or with a book of essays by Wayne Koestenbaum. (Bart: “I love Wayne, but I mean, Dickinson is a goddamn genius.”) Sam Biederman, a chief of staff for the city’s parks department who had come with a black Labrador mix breed, selected an anthology of female crime writers. Tobi Haslett, a writer, rambled on about a book by Dennis Cooper. “I never really liked him, but I might try again,” he said. Another patron was more enthusiastic. “I was just reading the entire George Miles cycle at work,” he told Beard, referring to Cooper’s five-novel series on queer sex and violence.
Haslett could understand Beard’s impulse for a radical exit. “I really should get rid of some of my books,” he said. “But then it feels almost sinful to say, ‘Oh, now I don’t have a copy of ‘Minima Moralia'” by Theodor Adorno. “Like, what am I, a Nazi- ?” He laughed.
Beard’s view was more philosophical. “Nothing’s really gone,” he said. “For example, if I want to read Rosa Luxemburg’s letters, I can always go to the library and take them out.” He shook his head. “When people talk to me about Marie Kondo, I tell them it’s not. It’s usually about getting rid of things you don’t like, but I sell these books because I love them.” He eyed the shelves lovingly. “Reading ‘Go Down, Moses’ in high school was one of the most important aesthetic experiences of my life, so you’d think if I got that exact copy I’d regret it sold that I brooded over as a teenager. But actually it’s the opposite. I’m so excited someone else will have this book.” ♦