Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Waves Return

Here then an example -- as if another was needed -- of how dangerous it is for a bibliophile to work in a bookstore.  The Bargain Books selection at the store where I work is full of snares.  For me, the walk across the bookstore's lobby can be harrowing.  I try, every day, to never let my eyes so much as glance at the recent arrivals of remainders, as I pass back and forth to the Cafe for diet sodas.  Most days I manage.

Just the other night, at a beloved coworker's farewell party and so already a somewhat gloomy occasion for me -- if a happy one for him -- a few of us of a similar age had a conversation on the sad topic of the unwanted libraries we will likely leave behind us when we go.  By "go" I mean "die."  We are all what one might call "lifers" at the bookstore.  We are all of us settled into middle age.  The day is coming when we must begin to simplify our lives before old age and illness, our own and or our partners, will necessitate divesting our lives of moveables.  We're booksellers.  Guess what constitutes the little we own?   The rising generations in all our families are unlikely to want what we got.  In my case at least, the likelihood that anyone would want the books I've been collecting for decades is slim to none.  Three distinct editions of Walter Savage Landor's Imaginary Conversations?  Okay, folks, who wants 'em?  What am I bid?  You see the problem.

In the past couple of years I have actually been making some effort to sort, sell and or donate a substantial number of my books, in anticipation of just the kind of conversation described above.  In addition to the growing motivation of my own slowly advancing mortality (one hopes,) there is also the unwelcome realization that there are by now in my private library whole categories of thing I no longer read, am unlikely to ever read again, and can't imagine my executors or the trash-man being much excited to find. 

Popular science took the biggest hit, followed by modern poetry, history and biography.  Fiction presents a special problem.  What I haven't read of this or that favorite author, I may yet.  What I liked best I may want to read again, mayn't I?  Modern Firsts and all that nonsense has never meant much to me.  The little it did, my time buying and selling used books has dispelled.  Likewise, to a considerable extent, signed copies.  The truth is, someone other than me would need to be found who wants to read the complete and collected works of the now late, and personally regretted Louis Auchincloss for any of my copies of his "firsts" to be valuable hereafter.  Alas.  Will I ever read another of his novels?  Even the ones I haven't yet read?  Even my favorites among the ones I have?  Ah, the fleeting of fame, etc.  It is to sigh.

But our remainder-buyers are a Mephistophelian crew.  Just when I've been congratulating myself, however prematurely, for my new-found thrift and discrimination, I am confronted yet again by the kind of attractive, all-too-reasonably-priced, clean and well designed little hardcover classics that may well yet be the death of me.  I'll write another of these about the books that got me this time, but just here I would mention three books I neither need nor want, but want, and worry I might need... hereafter.

 It's faintly ridiculous, even to me, that I should think of buying books by Virgina Woolf.  I own nice editions of all the essays, the letters and the diaries.  In these I have been reading, with great pleasure and some benefit for a long time.  Her novels, however, have always been and are likely to always be well beyond me, or at least my patience.  As I recently remarked to a young friend interested in reading same, her stream of consciousness, fuliginous and thin, has always seemed to me to have too few fish in it.

It's startling to think how many people I specially respect love Woolf's fiction.  It is even more so that I've only ever managed one novel, Orlando,and that when I was young and might read anything through.  To the LighthouseThe WavesMrs. Dalloway?  I've tried them all, that last more than once, more than thrice, come to that.  (When dishy Michael Cunningham wrote his very good book, The Hours, in which you'll remember that novel features muchly, I tried very hard indeed, ashamed never to have finished it.  I think I skipped ahead to the end, but beyond that?  I can't really claim to have read Woolf's novel, not really.)

Perhaps I will some day be mature enough, and quiet enough, not to find the novels, as opposed to nearly everything else the old girl ever wrote, dull.   Of Virginia Woolf there is nearly no end, so I don't feel I haven't done her some justice.  Hell, I've even read her husband and her girlfriend and her nephew and her dad, among her family, to say nothing of her wider acquaintance!

So why then be tempted by these British, hardcover Penguin Classics reissues?  Well, look at them!  Aren't they pretty?!  The design is elegant, there are interesting new introductions, and there they now sit on the Bargain table, at only $7.98 before tax and discount!

A Room with a View, her brilliant long feminist essay, (seems wrong to call it, "seminal,") I have read.  I don't know that I have it in my library anymore.  I took it to lunch yesterday and was frankly spellbound again by her astonishing rhetorical performance.  I'm not such a student of these things to be bothered much by the current analysis that seems to fault her for her snobbish assumptions about class and culture, etc.  Points well made, I'm sure.  Surely though by now, nearly a century after its original publication, the book may be read as literature and history -- at least by a common reader such as meself?  This one I will get, if only just to read in it again, as I've been talking about anyway.

But the two novels?  My collector's sense for"sets" makes my fingers twitch to scoop up all three books today.  Let's just see if I can resist, shall we?

And if I die tomorrow, maybe the junkman will think better of me for owning this unread copy of The Waves.  Even in death, I should think, one hopes to make a good impression.

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