Saturday, January 27, 2007


Dribs and drabs

Overheard this week at Best Buy, as I was leaving with my tiny technological purchase: two young clerks were chatting by the exit and one said to the other, with world-weary cynicism, "I used to read books, back in the day... can you believe it?" She looked about twenty years old. Back in the day. Holy mackerel. Would back in the day be when the first Harry Potter book came out?

Unrelated but interesting, I think: I bought a fine hardcover first edition of John Banville's The Sea at the library sale last week, and when I dusted it and put a mylar cover on the jacket, a piece of paper fell out. The paper has a short list of words and phrases on it, which include "ulnar styloid" and "flocculent" - both of which irked me immensely when I read this book several months back. I also made a list of suspect words as I read, many of which I noted on this blog. Blob. I went on to finish the book, however, while the previous owner of this copy seems to have thrown the book aside in petulant disgust after reading "flocculent" (that's around where the paper marker was, quite early on in the text) and then even went so far as to give the book away to the friends of the library sale. A hardcover first edition. Last year's Booker winner.

Speaking of back in the day, I heard a bit on public radio this week about David Bowie, and the announcer mentioned that he turned sixty this month. My heart flopped around in my chest for a minute - Bowie was my very first rock star crush when I was in high school, and my admiration for him only grew after I read in an old tour booklet of his that he never goes anywhere without a steamer trunk full of his favorite books (which drives his roadies crazy, but he will not go on tour without his necessary and essential books!). A small library here in Maine sends out letters to Known People every year asking what they've been reading, and Bowie's written back. Good book selection. David Bowie. Sixty years old. I saw his public television special last year, and he looked and sounded as amazing as ever. I find I can still swoon. Rock on, David.

One more miscellaneous note: an index card fell out of another book from last weekend, with handwriting on it reading "Brooks / "Mortality may be that against which all discourse defines itself, as protest or as attempted recovery and preservation of the human spirit, but it puts a stark biological limit to human constructions." I read this statement very slowly several times before I began to discern its meaning. I'm still not sure I entirely do. These items I find in books often end up seeming like little messages from some benevolent fate or muse.

Yes, I'm still reading William Rose Benét's compendium The Reader's Encyclopedia, one letter a day, 1948 edition, and here are a few entries of note from the Us:

uncial. A style of writing used in old manuscripts from the third century B.C. to the tenth A.D. Uncials are rounded capitals. (p.1154) (Good Scrabble word.)

University Wits. Term applied to a group of brilliant young English writers of the later years of the 16th century, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who had received their training at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Among these, chiefly playwrights and pamphleteers, the latter known for their polemics and their contributions to the "rogue literature" of the day, were Robert Greene, Gabriel Harvey, Thomas Lodge, John Lyly, Christopher Marlowe, and Thomas Nash. (p.1157)

Updike, Daniel Berkeley (1860-1941). American printer who established the Merrymount Press in Boston (1893). He helped to improve typography in the United States and wrote the authoritative Printing Types (1922). (p.1158)

Interesting long entries worth seeking out for further study: Ulster, Ulysses (Joyce, who takes up an inordinate number of entries throughout this book), unicorn, and Utopia. I am in the home stretch; the end of the book is in sight. As is the end of January.

Lastly, today, a repeat customer came in and bought a stack of books. One of which was the only copy of The Reader's Encyclopedia I have out for sale. Eight bucks, slightly battered but essentially sound. He said it was just what he was looking for. I was grinning like a fool. I couldn't even tell him why, other than to say, "That's a great book. I have my own copy right here." I am a happy bookseller.

My favorite paper-falling-out-of-the-book is from one of Angela Thirkell's novels. It's the February 21 leaf from a 1947 daily calendar. On the back is a penciled list as follows: Marling Hall and Northbridge Rectory- Angela Thirkell; One Man's Meat- E.B. White; The Royal Game- (Stefan) Zweig; A Passage to India- Forster; Mrs. Dalloway- Woolfe; and 7 Gothic Tales- Dinesen. Since I've read and enjoyed six of them, I'm looking forward to The Royal Game.

60-year-old book recommendations.

My eldest daughter, 13 today (how did that happen?) has Ziggy and Hunky Dory on constant repeat play.

Oh, and she got a Ramones T shirt for her birthday...

Meanwhile the shop hums to the sound of Talking Heads.
Bowie turned 60? Oh how I loved watching his MTV videos, guess I had a bit of a crush too. Now the thought of him turning 60 just makes me feel old.
Reading backwards, I have enjoyed the goody-two-shoes entry as that was my childhood nickname. Check my blog. I have entered palm warbler photo which I took yesterday. I imagine if I lived in Maine, I would see lots of warbler species. Sigh.
My blogger account.
Be careful about telling your readers who bought what at your store. In this case it was fairly innocuous and the person in question probably wouldn't mind (and maybe you had his permission), but customers deserve their privacy.
Commenting on comments, in reverse order - Anonymous, you are correct. I have amended my post and removed the customer's name. We did discuss my blog, and he thanked me for mentioning him on it the last time he came in, but I didn't ask his permission to talk about what he bought from me. In fact, I usually will not discuss who has purchased what. However, in this case I was very excited that he bought "The Reader's Encyclopedia" - which is why I mentioned it at all - and I didn't mention the other books he bought. Anyway, now I sound like I'm justifying myself. I'd be interested to hear what others think about this. One note - it is interesting to me that you chose to remain anonymous while you made this comment - also, that you decided to chide me in public instead of sending me a private email.

Sparrow, I am known in some circles as Miss Know-It-All. Goody Two-Shoes is an equally great moniker. Thanks for reading!

Hi Stefanie - don't feel old, feel vintage. Or even better, retro.

Jonathan, you have programmed your children well. They will thank you for it. Love those Talking Heads...

Hey Dan - thanks for the list, what a great one! Isak Dinesen is amazing. By the way, I found my first Angela Thirkell book at the library sale last week, it's "What Did It Mean?" A hardcover first from 1954. I'm assuming, however, that I must read her books in the order of publication? I'll head to the library soon to find out what they have.
I'm the one who chided you about keeping purchases confidential. I've posted here before and usually sign my name but forgot to this time. I apologize. As for not sending you a private e-mail, I didn't mean to embarrass you on your own blog; I just didn't think it was that big a deal. And I don't think the customer would have minded in this particular case.

--Charlie Breunig (book dealer in Madison, Wis.)
Hey Charlie - thanks for identifying yourself... and it's okay, no big deal. You were right! I am like a sensitive plant, however, too thin-skinned, sometimes. I try to be very careful and respectful about what I write about others, so I was embarrassed that this slipped by me.
How many comments can we add to this post?

There's no necessity to read Angela Thirkell novels in order, especially since the first couple are weaker than the others. I started in the middle of the series and was hooked, then read here and there before starting over from the beginning.

It occurred to me after my original comment that the slip is the same age as David Bowie. Everything comes back to DB, I guess.
Thanks, Dan - after I finish my current spate of artists' memoirs, perhaps I will dive right into this Thirkell book... You've certainly given me enough encouragement about her writing! I appreciate it - this is how favorite authors are discovered and rediscovered.

Yes, I think my own six degrees of separation should turn on DB.
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