I love the scent of old books. I went to the local AAUW book sale recently and got my fill — 40,000 volumes laid out on tables and stacked in cardboard boxes. Rooms of books. At 4 pm on the day I shopped the books were all reduced to half price (the original price for hardcover being $2; paperbacks were $1). How to choose amongst 40,000 volumes?!
I got 10 books for $15. Why these?
Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas — I didn’t have a copy of this classic on my shelves and wanted one. I found a previous owner’s handwritten notes intriguing. “Dreams-sex; like D.H. Lawrence; makes everything humorous; talks about little things and blows them up…” And I liked the underlined sentence on page #2 — “You can hear the dew falling, and the hushed town breathing.” It reminded me of the town where I grew up.
Selected Poems of May Sarton — I don’t recall ever reading May Sarton’s poetry and wondered why not. On page #35, “Girl with ‘Cello” (“There had been no such music here until/A girl came in from falling dark and snow/To bring into this house her glowing ‘cello/As if some silent, magic animal…” How could I not check out the writer of these words?
The Tale of the Unknown Island by Jose Saramago. Reasons to buy — Saramago had won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998; this is a love story, a fable; I loved the size, feel, and looks of the little book. Besides, I am drawn to the mere mention of an island or the unknown.
Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard — Though I have read and own other books by Annie Dillard, I had somehow missed or put off reading this one. I knew I would make discoveries, and so I did. I especially enjoyed being able to travel again, albeit vicariously this time, back to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands in a couple of the pieces.
An Introduction to Haiku (translated by Harold Henderson) — This little book has poets from Basho to Shiki with both the Japanese and the English translation. Haiku is beautiful and powerful when done well, as in “Autumn Night” — “That there is only one/is unbelievable tonight./This harvest moon!”
The Celtic Twilight: and a selection of early poems by W.B. Yeats — I don’t know how many anthologies and old literature books I own that have Yeats poems, but I didn’t have a volume of only Yeats. I opened the book to a poem that begins thus…”When you are old and gray and full of sleep,/And nodding by the fire, take down this book…” Now I can do that.
Literary Feuds: A Century of Celebrated Quarrels from Mark Twain to Tom Wolfe by Anthony Arthur. There’s name calling, libel suits, criticism, and quarreling amongst famous writers, the sort of gossip some find amusing. I enjoy memoirs and personal essays that allow peeks into the person behind the pen, but I’m not sure if this venture into the personal will be enjoyable or disappointing. We’ll see.
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. I didn’t read it in the 60s when everybody else was reading it. I also didn’t meditate or learn yoga or long to go to India. This new translation was published in 2000 and the copy was in excellent condition with no dogeared pages and only one sentence in the whole book marked — “Seeking means having a goal, but finding means being free, open, having no goal.” I thought it rather peculiar that someone would underline in pencil (and very sloppily at that) this one sentence in the whole book. Well, I bought it.
2201 Fascinating Facts by David Louis — I’m a sucker for facts and the stranger, the better. “Tibetans drink tea made of salt and rancid yak butter”; “date palm trees in Iraq are passed down through generations as part of family legacies”; “during the Middle Ages German men went to the barber to take a bath as well as to get a shave…”
Youth and the Bright Medusa by Willa Cather — I love Willa Cather and had never read these wonderful short stories. It’s a tiny hardcover in a deep, bright blue with the Borzoi dog logo on the front cover! (See in photo above) When Alfred Knopf started his company in 1915 he wanted to publish books of both literary quality and beautiful design; he chose the borzoi dog as the logo. I was excited to find this treasure amongst the 40,000 tomes at the book sale.
(I felt the tiniest connection, too, as my own book, To Come and Go Like Magic, was published in hardcover as a Borzoi book. )