Wednesday, August 29, 2012

In the Crannies and the Nooks, There Are Books to Buy

There’s always something. There’s always some goddamn thing that wrecks my plan to get rid of more books each year than I bring in. (Other than my own lack of willpower, which is manifested both by my inability to stop going into bookstores so frequently and by my all-too-frequent willingness to drop a buck or two on just about anything.) Last year it was Borders going out of business, but I really was doing well this year. Before this past weekend, I had bought all of two books so far in 2012. (I don’t count literary magazines, whether I should or not.)

Then we went to the Benton House Book Sale last Saturday. Amy was looking for some books for Jackson and, well, like I’ve said, I don’t have to be talked into these things. Jockamo and Lazy Daze are two of the collection points for the donations that make this book sale work, and I’ve perused the contents of those collection boxes at various times, while waiting either for pizza or coffee. I was sort of hoping, based on what I had seen in those collection boxes, that I would be as unimpressed by the rest of the books at the sale as I was by the ones I got to see beforehand, stuffed into shopping bags and shipping cartons and whatnot. (Either way, it was certainly worth at least a look.)

Alas. You put enough books together in one place, and spend enough time looking at them, and invariably you can spot a monkey reading a copy of Hamlet on the floor under a table in the back corner. Or would have to be your bull. Anyway...I was going along just fine until I came to a pocket paperback copy of Gone with the Wind that was both well bound and in pretty good shape. I normally cast aspersions on pocket paperback books, for reasons that mostly have to do with how cheaply they are made and how hard they are to read. (At least, they’re usually hard for me to read. The print is often fairly small, and I don’t have the best eyes in the world to begin with. Unfortunately, this seems to be getting worse as I get older.)

This one was in good shape, though. The pages fell open nicely, and the binding was not cracked, or even slightly creased, and felt solid enough in my hands that I was confident it would remain that why while the book was under my care. However, it was only one book, and even though it was a (relatively) nice one, it was something I could pass up. I have never read Gone with the Wind, and it’s one of those that I hope to get around to reading one of these days; but that’s what libraries are for—to hold the books you want to get around to eventually until the day comes when you finally get around to them. If it had been something I felt reasonably sure I would want either to read again or to keep forever, then that would have been something different.

The next thing that I picked up and found intriguing was a Modern Library trade paperback copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s not something I’ve ever felt a burning desire to read, and I already have something by its author on my shelves (The Three Musketeers); but the Modern Library edition closed the deal. Modern Library editions are extremely well made trade paperbacks, with long introductions, often by other authors who have some sort of connection to the work they are introducing (such as Michael Cunningham introducing The Voyage Out, Arthur C. Clarke introducing The War of the Worlds, and Michael Crichton introducing The Lost World). The copy was not in very good shape, with a badly rolled spine and some discoloration on the pages; but it was not precisely in bad shape, either, and its Modern Library-ness made up for the other deficiencies.

At this point, I was considering two books I could easily have passed on; but I kept looking around anyway, because it’s places like that where you find the gems that both surprise and delight you. The gem for me, in this case, was a very fine trade paperback copy of The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño. Somebody out there is going to read this and think that Bolaño is overhyped, and they might be right; but I would disagree, mostly because I thought 2666 was great, but also because he is outspoken in his non-fiction and because his poetry can be a little bit dirty. He would be nearly as popular if he were still alive, but his untimely passing, at the age of fifty, pretty much cemented his status as a rock star. Now that I have a complete collection of the work of Richard Yates, Bolaño is the author I hoard when I find him in clearance bins and book sales.

There was no way I was going to pass up the Bolaño novel, so I went back and got the other two books I had been looking at, too. I maybe should have stopped there, but then I would not have found a hardcover copy of Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew, an early collection of his short stories. I wasn’t entirely sure I did not already have that book, but I grabbed it anyway. I checked the Stephen King bookcase when I got home, and sure enough, no Skeleton Crew. (Yes, I have a whole bookcase, of the three-shelf sort, with nothing but Stephen King books in it—and it’s overflowing.) I also picked up a copy of an old issue of Granta, and by that point it was well beyond time for me to leave. Amy and Jackson had long since paid for their purchases and exited the sale. I dropped a whopping $2.50 on my four books and one magazine, and in one fell swoop undid the modest progress I had made this year in reducing my literary inventory. I suppose there’s always next year...

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