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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | VENTURA COUNTY LIFE

Truly a Deluge for the Books

March 14, 2001|Steve Chawkins | Steve Chawkins can be reached at steve.chawkins@latimes.com or at 653-7561

Clarey Rudd doesn't really know how many books were ruined or how much it cost him.

But standing in a dank mulch of pulp and water in a warehouse off Ventura Avenue, he is all too familiar with one consequence of last week's fierce rains: "I've discovered that mold grows awfully fast," he said.

Last week, Rudd dropped into his crammed warehouse to retrieve volumes ordered by customers at his two Ventura used-book stores, the Abednego Book Shoppe and the Bank of Books.

To say that what he found was discouraging is to say that the Pacific is a little moist.

Water had surged out of a floor drain and spread ankle-deep across the basement warehouse's cement floor. For at least a day, it bathed thousands of cardboard boxes packed with second-hand books. Some of those sodden boxes caved in, toppling the book-filled boxes stacked atop them into the sea of muck.

On Tuesday afternoon, Rudd still was tearing open cartons to inspect the damage. He had been at it since 5:30 a.m. and wasn't planning on leaving until late at night. He figures it will be months before the 200,000 books in the dimly lit warehouse are all accounted for, with flood-saturated volumes plucked out and thrown away to keep all the others from rotting.

After just a week, Rudd, his wife and three daughters, along with a volunteer or two, have tossed out tons of books--old algebra texts, romance novels, self-help books, you name it. Like a scene from a bookseller's nightmare, four trucks brimming with drenched literature have chugged their way to the dump. Many more will make the same sad trip.

On one level, this was nothing more than a serious business setback. The books--acquired over 10 years of garage-sale-hopping and estate purchases--were uninsured. Rudd estimates their value at more than $100,000.

But on a deeper level, it was yet another test meted out to Rudd, a religious man who at 48 can't resist jovially comparing himself to Job.

The flood is only his latest problem.

A few years back, an eye disease nearly left him blind. A corneal transplant saved the vision in one eye. His other eye hasn't deteriorated as rapidly, but is checked frequently.

While recovering from his surgery, he lost the family business--a Christian bookstore that was started by his parents more than 50 years before. Still bitter, he claims that a complex deal involving the store needlessly cost him nearly $500,000. He said he filed suit, but to no avail.

With no cash coming in, the Rudds nearly lost their Oxnard home--a problem made no easier when doctors diagnosed Rudd with a throat cancer so rare that it had been documented only 300-odd times in the English-speaking world.

Job never sinned. Rudd never smoked.

"I do ask why at times," he said in a gentle voice that can never rise much above a whisper. "But it rains on good and bad alike."

A few people have responded to Rudd's call and donated bookshelves and racks for the warehouse, although many more are needed. A lumberyard gave him wooden pallets so he can stack some of his boxes above the floor.

Even so, the place looked bleak and smelled sour Tuesday afternoon, and Rudd seemed to be struggling against a huge, stagnant tide of jumbled brown cartons. I asked him whether his faith had been shaken even a little.

"God is good," he replied, much like Job.

Rudd was thankful that his collection of 240 Bible translations was stored elsewhere. One day, he said, he'll place them in a reference area for scholars at Abednego--a store named after a Biblical figure to whom God gave the love of literature.

"But weren't Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego cast into the fiery furnace?" I asked Rudd.

"Yes!" he said. "And they survived!"

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