Sunday, August 27, 2006

Friday afternoon I was overcome by an urge to order not one, but two, Stendhal novels. I've been entertaining the idea of reading The Red and the Black for several months; it seemed reasonable to go on and purchase The Charterhouse of Parma as well, especially since it's the book an ill Karel Schmidt pleads to be rescued from (he's provided with a Kingsley Amis) near the end of Margaret Drabble's The Realms of Gold and I've had it in the back of my mind since I first read the Drabble in the late 70s.

I told myself these would be my last purchases for awhile. Then I happened upon a 25-cent The Ox-Bow Incident on the used book cart at the public library Saturday morning and then later found hardback copies of David Lodge's The Art of Fiction and Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead when I ventured into Goodwill on my walk to the post office to return our latest Netflix offering (David Duchovny's House of D, which we all enjoyed). And a heavily annotated paperback Camus, one I already have, because the margin notes intrigued me (I resisted the Sharyn McCrumb inscribed to the "cosmic possum.") Those are my last. What else could I possibly need that I don't already have?

But speaking of Goodwill, it's not one of my usual haunts for used books. R. and her best friend were obsessed with Goodwill for several years, to the point that I'd have to drop them off there after picking them up from school in the afternoons two or three times a week. I found a hardback copy of a Margaret Atwood there once, but even that wasn't enough to make me want to go in the store--too many scented items that set off my allergies. It just wasn't worth it.

The store didn't smell on Saturday, though, and I enjoyed browsing in the books at the back of the store. I recognized one I'm sure my parents had on their shelves by the font on its dust jacket and it made me happy to see it because it's a book I definitely don't want to read.

See, when I was growing up my parents had a wall of hardback books back behind the television set. No one ever took one of these books down for perusual that I ever saw, although on occasion my mother or my sister (15 years older than me) would attempt to put some Peyton Place-type paperback beyond my reach and attention on the top shelf (did they not think that I knew how to stand on top of the TV to reach them?). I developed quite a pronounced disdain for all the books on those shelves and I would never have deigned to read a one of them.

But after my sister moved back home after her husband's death, she boxed up all those books (and a lot of mine) and placed them behind many many boxes of items from her own home. She filled the shelves behind the TV with framed photos and knicknacks.

The past few years I've second-guessed my early opinion--maybe some of the books my parents owned, most from the 50's or early 60's, I'd say, were actually better than I'd thought. Maybe I'd recognize some of the authors and want to give the books a try if my sister could remember where in the basement she stashed them. (Or own up to the fact that she gave them away, instead of continually promising to unearth them for me at a later date.)

I can't call recognizing the font on an old book in Goodwill a full Proustian experience since I can't recall the titles of all the other books my parents owned, but it does help put the loss of them in perspective.


  1. Heh - I just picked up a copy of 'The Realms of Gold' at the Chapel Hill Public Library book sale today (can't go wrong at $3 per bag).

    So my currently-owned Drabbles are that, 'A Natural Curiosity', and 'The Ice Age'. Any suggestions on which to read first?

  2. Either Realms of Gold or The Ice Age. Curiosity is the middle of a trilogy that begins with The Radiant Way and ends with Gates of Ivory (I think that's its title). I quit reading Drabble for several years about the time the first in the trilogy came out and then wound up reading them out of order. Come to think of it, I read Byatt's Frederica novels out of order, too. I don't know why I do stupid things like that.

    Realms of Gold was my introduction to Drabble and it's still one of my all-time favorites. I've totally forgotten The Ice Age and ought to reread it. It might appeal to me more now that I'm older.

  3. It's interesting the way we make unexpected and often illogical assumptions about books based on when and how we first encountered them. It sounds very Proustian to me!

  4. I have decided to try and wean myself from so much book buying for a while, too. Surely whatever I don't already have I can find (for free) at the library. And I have plenty to read anyway. It's so depressing to think I probably won't even get all the books I own now read...

  5. MargaretWV11:32 AM

    Every time you post an entry about Proust, I'm transported to my adolescence: I'm watching TV in the basement. Monty Python's "The All-England Summarize Proust Competition" episode is on and I can hear a chorus singing "Proust in his first book wrote about, wrote about . . . ."

  6. Oh, that is too funny. I just checked Netflix--it's available. Hurray! (Or maybe not. The summer S. did nothing but quote from the Holy Grail drove us all a little nuts.)

  7. Thanks, Susan. I should have noted that I haven't read any Drabble previously, but it sounds like you assumed that anyway.

    I definitely think that it would have been better to have read some books at different times in my life than I have. But I have read some at exactly the right times.


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