It started innocently enough. Now that I’m home again I don’t have access to WiFi, and my kids assure me I have the slowest dial-up in the country. They might just be right, so yesterday I spent quite a while in a local WiFi restaurant with my computer. After an hour or so I decided the chair was just too uncomfortable and adjourned to Starbucks, with their lovely stuffed chairs that are better than the ones I have at home. On my way there, my eye was caught by shelves of books in the store next door. Ah, yes, Applegarth's Books, the new used bookstore. I’d never stopped in there, I owed it a visit. To my surprise it was big. It was clean. It was well-lit and well organized. I was in love. The problem, as you may know, with falling in love with a new bookstore is that then you fall in love with the books in them, probably a lot of the books. And that means you'll spend the money you were going to use on a venti iced Chai Latte with extra cinnamon. Also, you now have to find space on a shelf, or a table, or the floor, or someplace to put them. You also have to give up all the other things you wanted to do today, like vacuuming the coils behind your refrigerator. Is it worth it, you ask yourself? Do I even have to answer?
It was bookstore love at first sight. I managed to control myself, however. I showed great restraint. I put back books I really wanted, really needed. Eventually I narrowed it down to eight. I found my first volume right inside the door. A cloth bound hardback with green printing on a cream spine caught my eye immediately. My favorite colors. The Near Woods by Millard C. Davis needed a look. I passionate about books on natural history, especially if they’re about trees and woods. A few peeks inside convinced me it should be mine. Thank you, Murrey David Goldberg, for passing it on to me. It was a steal. Around the corner I found several shelves of books about writing. They yielded Novel Ideas, (Cute title, no?), in which ‘Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process‘. Two of my favorite things to read, essays and books about writing. Definitely a keeper. In the same section I found What’s in a Word?, one of those books about the source of common sayings and names. Opening it randomly I was taken aback to see bassinet in the military section. As a grandmother to be, I had to read on. It seems the term started in the Middle Ages when the French developed a bowl shaped helmet. As it resembled a basin they christened it bassinet. Somehow, passing down from French soldiers to Sir Walter Scott, folks decided the similarly shaped baskets their infants slept in should also be called bassinets. If you don’t find that fascinating, well I just don’t know what to do with you.
The most exciting find of the day was a beautifully preserved, probably never even taken off the shelf, copy of How To Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. A classic first published in 1940, I’ve wanted it for years, but for some reason I never actually bought it. Now I know why. This absolutely perfect copy, published in 1972, has been waiting for me. It’s pristine, feels absolutely right in my hands, and cost me 6 dollars. It doesn’t get any better than this. The next books I picked out are two old favorites -- The Count of Monte Cristo, (Dumas), and Howard Pile’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. Pile's is the version I grew up with, a big green cloth-bound book with occasional color illustrations, all managing to make men in tights look pretty good. Actually, I didn’t pay too much attention to that part; I was much more interested in joining Robin and Friar Tuck and Allen a Dale. We would all live outside in Sherwood Forest, hunting and cooking, singing songs and telling stories. We’d wash our clothes in the river, and play tricks on rich, pompous travelers. What a grand life! I’d been camping in the Rockies, and I knew camping could be dirty and smelly, but this was Sherwood Forest. It would be perfect.
I bought Jude the Obscure because my daughter-in-law told me to. That's not quite like it sounds. I’d just spent 8 weeks there, and we both love reading, writing, and talking about them both. (We both love my son, too, but that’s neither here nor there.) I mentioned at some point that I’d never managed to finish anything by Thomas Hardy because his books seemed soooo depressing. She recommended Jude; she was even pretty sure I’d actually like it, so I’ll give it a whirl. Just for her. I made myself stop shopping then. I had enough books to keep me reading for a while, and I'd spent as much as I could afford to help the store survive. I was done. Then something magical happened to me on the way to the register. My eye was drawn away by a familiar black and orange binding. The boldly lettered title jumped out at me. The Power and the Glory. It had been so long, too long in fact, since I’d thought of the whiskey priest and his struggle with organized religion, God, and most of all, himself. That’s why I ended up walking out of the store with nine books and no regrets. I’ll find space on a shelf, probably by taking some not so worthy books to the store and trading them in. For more books of course. It could be worse. I could collect bassinets. Imagine how much space I'd need then.
Read Well, Friend
( Novel Ideas by Shoup and Denman, What's in a Word? by Garrison, and The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.)