Friday, March 27, 2009

An Irresistable Force at Work on a Moveable Body

If I ever doubt the affection of my coworkers, I am reminded when my cupidity becomes so embarrassing that even work-husband, J., is moved to gently ask, as he was today, "Now really, do you need to buy those books today?" He cares, you know, he really does. I went upstairs just to check and see if the second volume of A. J. Liebling in The Library of America, promised for months and inexplicably delayed, had indeed finally arrived. It had. The stack I brought down from the hardcover classics area though included not just the Liebling, but three other new volumes in the series as well. Each new volume cost thirty five or forty dollars, depending, I suppose on size. I can afford, at the moment, none of them. J. was quite right to intervene.

The first volume of Liebling, published last year, was of his war correspondence. I've read in it since and it is all good, some of it quite moving in a tough minded way. But had the author been anyone else, or had the book been published somewhere other than in The Library of America, I don't know that I would have felt obliged to own it. I love Liebling, but the Liebling I love is in this second volume. This is Liebling the gourmand, the boxing enthusiast, the New York and Paris boulevardier. He is not wholly absent from the first book, but, I suspect, he is present entire in the second. If I've already read nearly everything in this second volume, it won't much matter as I know I will dearly love having it all in one handsome, compact book.

Lafcadio Hearn is not a writer I've ever read, with the exception of a few ghost stories and what I remember as his translations of some Japanese classics. When I picked up this new collection in the series, I hadn't even any idea who the "Hearn" pictured on the cover might be. (His name seems to be one of those that requires both pieces to make a whole, like South Dakota.) The works listed are none of them, so far as I could tell without unsealing the book, set in Japan, suggesting a second volume forthcoming and an entirely new experience for me when I finally buy this book.

Finally, there are two, well-timed volumes of John Cheever, one of novels and the other of short stories. Again, none of this is unknown to me from earlier books. Presumably, all the stories herein are in my volume of the collected, plus the little book of posthumously published, uncollected stories, unauthorized as I remember by his estate and actively disliked if not resisted by his daughter, Susan Cheever, to whom I was gauche enough to mention the book, years ago, when she came into the store I was then working in, to sign as I remember, a novel of her own. The volume of novels I may have mostly read, though I could not swear to it as I have not read Cheever in years and may, suffering the unhappy effects on memory of proximity being mistaken for experience that is common to all booksellers, simply have sold them all rather than read them.

I want very much to read Cheever again. There is a major new biography. I want to read that, in fact have already started it, or rather started in it, on more than one lunch-hour. There are few pleasures to equal reading a good critical biography with the writer's work conveniently collected and to hand.

What to do? For the time being, after much holding and calculating and whining, I have left the lot, neatly stacked at my desk. Dear J. has had a corrective influence yet again, as he so often has tried to do unsuccessfully in the past, and I will wait, if not for my birthday when I can present my husband with a total and beg a cheque for the lot, then at least until June when we have a scheduled employee shopping day, when our discount goes up a healthy ten percent, and I can justify, if not spending so much money, saving at least a little.

I wonder though if J., who sweetly suggested returning the books to the shelf until I could actually buy them, will be too much troubled by the sight of them there, in all their pretty potential, on the desk for the next three months. He can't seriously imagine, having found them all just today, that I could part with them now that they are mine in all but reality? Perhaps if I stuff them in my cubby with all the others I can't quite afford to actually buy...

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