Monday, June 12, 2006


After attending a book sale...

...and after cleaning, sorting, pricing, and shelving most of the books, I am inevitably left with a short stack of the should-might-perhaps-read?-keep?-sell? items. Some are self-evident from the get-go, but many sneak up on me. Here I am, poised with my blunt extra-soft Dixon Ticonderoga at the ready, but I take a quick riffle through the pages, and something catches my eye, and instead of gripping my lower lip between my teeth, resolutely pricing the book, and snapping it shut, I instead pause and read a few sentences. Fatal mistake. At this point it is almost always too late, even if I don't know it yet. Years of experiencing this phenomenon, and it still catches me by surprise. This past week, it happened with the Humez's Latin for People/Latina pro Populo (Little, Brown 1976), an unlikely title. I think Why, why didn't I pay attention in Latin class in high school as I start to price it, then I read the beginning of chapter XI:

"Sooner or later, generally sooner, the student of Latin angrily discovers that Latin involves learning one hell of a lot of grammar. Traditional responses to this lamentation have tended to range from 'If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen' to 'What if your face froze like that?'" (p.106-107)

What is this? A Latin textbook with a sense of humor? This, THIS is the book I've needed to read, all these years I tell myself as the book lands in the "keep" pile. Now, part of me knows, really knows, that I will never read this book. But in case I need it, I will have it at the ready.

This stands a greater chance of being read cover to cover: Edmund Wilson's The Bit Between My Teeth: A Literary Chronicle of 1950-1965 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1965). Again, about to price and shelve, I flip through and notice a chapter entitled "My Fifty Years with Dictionaries and Grammars" the first sentence of which reads "I have always been greedy for words." (p.598) Oh dear. I am doomed, and I know it, for I am a word nut. I have a few Shorter Oxford dictionaries (from various decades) at my elbow, next to some books by lexicographer Eric Partridge, and two etymological dictionaries, and I'm constantly relaxing my brain by doing crossword puzzles or playing Scrabble, when I require words in a non-book format. So Edmund Wilson's essays will have to come home with me, eventually.

Then there's a rumpled little first edition of Aldous Huxley's, an early book of short stories entitled Limbo (Doran 1920), which would be worth a first edition-y kind of price if not for its shabbiness, but I find a story within, "The Bookshop." It describes the encounter between a man and the proprietor of an antiquarian shop, and near its end, the man buys a book and the proprietor says this about their transaction:

"'I tell you,' he said, 'I'm sorry to part with it. I get attached to my books, you know; but they always have to go.'" (p.267)

No, they don't. At least not during my lifetime.

I've got work to do today, and I haven't even mentioned the A.L. Rowse book with the long description of his visit to Max Gate (Thomas Hardy's cottage), or MacGregor Jenkins's book Puttering Round, from 1920, about the deep pleasures of doing a whole lot of nothing much out in your garden, or the fat M.F.K. Fisher anthology with the funny Clifton Fadiman introduction, and all the others. Next time, perhaps.

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