Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Literary Widows and Orphans

I'm finally feeling a little bit closer to conscious. This ridiculous cough has really laid me low for the past few days and it's good to feel a little more like a human being again--as opposed to the mass of quivering, sneezing, phlegmy germs I've been since Friday last.

Since I've spent a good deal of the last few days in my childhood bedroom (in an attempt to quarantine myself from happy, healthy sorts) I've had a lot of time to stare at the bookshelf that faces my bed. In fact, while not sleeping last night I turned on the light for a while and just looked over all the titles to see what I remembered of them, which I'd read, loved, etc.

I seem to have books in many places. A few hundred favorites at my flat in Connecticut, and heaven only knows how many are in boxes, on shelves, and stored in the spare bedroom here in Minnesota. (That sound you hear is my mother commenting that I'm welcome to take ALL of them back to Connecticut any time I'd like.) My mother is right of course, but there's never been an optimal time to schlep them all back East, nor is there likely to be one in the immediate future. (NB, Mom!) Nevertheless, I imagine that there are many treasures among those in unlabeled boxes.

Surely my old set of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books are all there, as are my beloved old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries and all my well-loved and well-worn Judy Blume favorites. I always loved Starring Sally J. Freedman, As Herself. I don't know if it was the post-war time period, the funny stories that Sally made up in her head or the old movie stars she fantasized about, but the book really struck a chord with me. I'm so glad I grew up with Judy Blume books to read and ponder over. I am admittedly a little envious of all the YA horse-related literature and series that little girls have today...but I think I'd still love all my Black Stallion and other Walter Farley books just the same, as well as the many wonderful adaptations of Black Beauty that I've collected over the years.

So all those boxes are yet to be pored over (yes, Mother, I will get to them...) but that brings me to the widows and orphans that populate the shelves at the end of my bed. I say widows and orphans because they are not, for the most part, books of my youth. (Save one beloved Rupert the Bear volume that I love dearly.) Rather, these are volumes that were left behind on moves or when I'd over-packed my suitcase and that meant the books ended up as casualties of cruel airline luggage regulations. The breadth of topic and genre also attests to to how scattered, complicated, and fickle my interest can be.

A quick scan of the topmost shelf yields, among others, copies of John Irving's Cider House Rules, Mann's Budden Brooks, mysteries by Martha Grimes, Anne Perry, and Agatha Christie, Anne Rice's Taltos, Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams and three coffee-table pictorials of Ireland. And the other three shelves? A veritable pick-a-mix of reading: The Deep End of The Ocean, Biography of a Cathedral, Vol. 1 of Graham Greene's life, a bio of Dashiell Hammett, galleys of The Highest Tide and William Boyd's Restless. Inserted at odd angles are paperbacks detailing the great rise (and eventual fall) of my favorite EPL team, Chelsea.  Scattered as well are classics like Spenser's The Fairie Queene and D.H. Lawrence's Women In Love. The lowest of the layers contain the oddest mix...many old texts and college books on the middle ages, various French phrase and translation books, a plethora of Iris Murdoch titles, design books of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, a few Paulo Coelho novels, a near library of Granta magazines, and second copies of my favorite Milan Kundera titles.

Among the orphaned old-favorites, a few real treasures that will be heading back to Connecticut with me. First, an antique volume on Paris, called Paris of To-day from 1891, complete with engravings and fantastically over-written prose about one of my "hometowns." I also found a library discard copy of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge which is a book I've read so many times, but probably not for 5 years or's getting the "call-up," so to speak. In addition to Rupert the Bear, a volume of the brilliantly silly Calvin and Hobbes is also making the trip with me.

There are two stand-outs within this little literary gold-mine, though. One is A Sense of Life by the sometimes overlooked Antoine de Saint-Exupery. (He's high up on my list of people I'd love to sit next to and converse with at a dinner party.) I'm not implying he's not well-known and beloved for The Little Prince, but his other work, is, I think, sadly underrated. I read his Wind, Sand and Stars with Flight to Arras and Wisdom of the Stars and I was utterly taken aback by his skilled prose. It might read a little flowery by modern standards, but his descriptions of the sky, stars and desert are achingly beautiful and they make you want to sit out and star-gaze. Coupled with his keen insight into humanity, these books are absolute classics that I can't recommend more highly. Dip into his Wisdom of the Sands or The Tale of the Rose by his widow, Consuelo, and you will not be disappointed. These are literary treasures to be savored again and again.

The other is the movie edition of Gone With the Wind. If you've read some of my previous posts, you'll see Scarlett O'Hara and GWTW references now and then. It's been my favorite movie since I was 6--and hey, no judgment of my parents for letting a child watch a film of that nature. I've got my grandmother's old hardcover--sans dust jacket--and a few other editions of the book and movie (Beta, VHS, DVD...) so it's safe to say I'm a fan. This particular movie tie-in edition was published in 1940 and has glorious full color pictures of the cast and scenes throughout. Fiddle-dee-dee, indeed! (I love the scene below, at the Wilkes' barbecue, when Scarlett is "complimenting" India Wilkes on her "beautiful" dress. You can practically see the sneer on Scarlett's face.

When I do start back East tomorrow morning, I'll be carrying a few of these little gems with me. There will be fewer literary widows and orphans on my shelf...but still more than enough to enjoy on my next visit, and plenty to pluck off the shelf with new interest and curiosity.

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