2 March, 2013
The cream of the crop of my collection, as it sits on a shelf in the dining room.
“”When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old manservant – a combined gardener and cook – had seen in at least ten years.” – “A Rose for Emily”
I can blame the Tolkien obsession on my brothers. But my Faulkner obsession has the blame laid squarely on Carol Mooney, my high school English teacher (both for Freshman and AP). In AP English we read The Sound and the Fury and I was hooked for life. And as for the collection, you can actually blame that on Veronica. It was when she bought the Signet copy of Sanctuary because of how awesome the cover was, in spite of the fact that I already had it, that I started opening myself to collecting various editions of books. Before I met her I owned precisely 1 copy of Lord of the Rings and 1 copy of The Sound and the Fury.
There is a competition going. Looking in my Book Register (of course I have a spreadsheet that has all this information – read this and stop asking silly questions), the Faulkner collection currently encompasses 314 books for a total of 114273 pages. The Tolkien collection only has 188 books for 88201 pages. Of course, Tolkien only wrote two novels while Faulkner wrote 20. And the Faulkner collection has probably only grown by about a shelf since we came to Boston, whereas the Tolkien collection has probably doubled in size. Clearly they are the two collecting passions in my life (if by the two, you don’t count Star Wars, the Modern Library, the Viking Portable Library, Harry Potter or Lego). (more…)
20 December, 2012
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
Reading J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t teach me a love of reading. Even at the age of 5, I already had that. But, in the summer of 1980, after I had made it through the Chronicles of Narnia, my brothers decided to hand me The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings and see what would happen. What happened, of course, is 33 consecutive years of reading both (sometimes more than once a year).
For a long time, this was a love that I had, but it wasn’t necessarily an overwhelming passion. I had The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion and a few reference books (The Complete Guide to Middle-earth and The Atlas of Middle-earth). And I knew a lot about Middle-earth. But it could all easily fit in a shelf. Now it can’t even fit in a single bookcase.
“This tale grew in the telling . . .”
What happened? Well, a passion for collecting that began to focus happened. And the films happened, at a time when I was working at the world’s largest bookstore. There was suddenly a lot of Tolkien books (and Tolkien related books) around and suddenly I had more money than I had before for this kind of collecting. So, this took off, slower than Faulkner, but at a good pace.
And what has happened in the years since I left Powell’s? It has only continued to grow. In fact, I now own more copies of Lord of the Rings than I own of The Sound and the Fury. And it continues to grow because they continue to release new editions of the books and I just can’t resist. (more…)
5 October, 2012
The Avon / Bard mass market editions of the first several García Márquez books.
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” (One Hundred Years of Solitude)
It was the spring of my junior year of college when I first heard of him. My friend Jake had been taking more Spanish classes and I asked him why. He wanted to read Cien años de soledad, the original Spanish language version of One Hundred Years of Solitude. “It’s my new barometer for people,” he said. “If they don’t like it, I can’t listen to them anymore.” As one of my oldest and closest friends, this seemed like a direct challenge. I needed to find this book and read it and like it. Preferably, from the tone of his voice, think it brilliant.
I found an old Avon paperback in Chapter II, the same little used bookstore in Forest Grove (now long gone) where, browsing in the fall, I had found Portnoy’s Complaint and Ragtime and embarked on reading odysseys through Philip Roth and E.L. Doctorow. It took me little more than a day to get it read (why bother reading stuff for school when I can be reading this, I kept thinking).
I called him back the next day. “It was brilliant,” I told him. “Especially that last sentence. That was amazing.” And so it began, my odyssey into this, the greatest of all the writers from Latin America, one of the few people who was won the Nobel Prize and absolutely deserved it.
27 May, 2012
My collection of Pevear / Volokhonsky translations.
When I began these For Love of Books posts, I began them with a specific purpose. Because I love books. Not just the words inside, but books themselves. And I hate the Kindle. I don’t hate all E-readers, and I can understand why people flock to them on some level. But for me, they will never replace books. My specific hatred of the Kindle stems partially from the concept, but mostly from the fact that Amazon has replaced Microsoft in my Holy Trinity of Wrong (it now sits alongside Walmart and the Yankees).
I bring this all up here, because this specific post deals with books that you can buy as opposed to e-books that you can get for free. My guess is that it is relatively easy to get the great Russian novels – the works of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov – for free. They were almost all written in the nineteenth century and even the English language translations have long since passed out of copyright protection.
But, those free novels that you’re getting aren’t the whole piece of the puzzle. Certainly they are worthy of reading and you will experience, through one literary vision, the great Russian works. My guess is that that vision is the vision of Constance Garnett. Garnett translated 71 Russian works over the course of her career and we should be thankful for how much we can read in English thanks to her.
But, they are no longer the last word. They are no longer the best translations out there, as is made obvious with every new release. Granted, I have no knowledge of the Russian language. But I know the English language and I know literature. And there’s a magical world available to us now, thanks to the work in the last 25 years of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. They are the husband and wife team that has brought out new translations of the best works in Russian literature (excepting Fathers and Sons). (more…)
25 March, 2012
A young Philip Roth in 1968 about to set everyone alight with Portnoy's Complaint.
“I write fiction and I’m told it’s autobiography, I write autobiography and I’m told it’s fiction, so since I’m so dim and they’re so smart, let them decide what it is or it isn’t.” (Deception)
My 1st Edition Philip Roth collection.
Philip Roth has not won the Nobel Prize. But it seems like he’s won everything else. And if the Nobel Committee were to realize that there are countries outside of Europe (hell, outside of Sweden – nine Swedes have now won the Nobel Prize in Literature – I know it’s your country, but that’s ridiculous), they would look at Roth again. He has written award winning books, award winning short stories, he has written on the art of writing and on his contemporaries. He has helped to build the knowledge of European Literature in the United States, being the editor of Writers from the Other Europe Series from Penguin that brought, among others, Milan Kundera to the forefront in the States. With John Updike and Saul Bellow now gone, he is the last of that breed, those writers who were obsessed with sex, obsessed with life, who gave us great novels that were cultural as well as literary milestones.
He is one of my favorites. You might not want to shake his hand, or even know him. But you should definitely read him.
28 December, 2011
for Terry and John
“We can’t stop here. This is bat country.” (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, p 18)
It’s Nixon who started all of this and I can’t help but think that would make Hunter smile. When I was first getting into a serious love of film, one of the first great films I watched was All the President’s Men. Then I read the book, and I was just hooked. I could do a whole For Love of Books post on books about Nixon and the Nixon administration. And I already had the makings of a serious political junkie, having been apparently the only fifth grader at Taft Elementary willing to offer up support of Walter Mondale. I followed the trail through the primaries in 88 and less than four years later, had a serious conversation with my best friend, John, and we decided that of all the candidates, it was Bill Clinton that was the best chance – both for the country, and for getting elected. I couldn’t get enough of it. And through it all, I was reading books about Nixon. So, somewhere along the line, not long after Nixon died, I bought a book called Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72. (more…)
8 July, 2011
The British Deluxe (first 5), the U.S. Hardcover (all 7), the Time Magazine that announced the craze in September of 1999 and my favorite cover – the British adult Deathly Hallows
“You should read these,” the good looking manager at work said. I had just started working at Barnes and Noble – my first bookstore job – and it was the third week of September in 1999. She was pointing at the three Harry Potter books, which were the top sellers in the store. The title character was about to make the cover of Time Magazine as the sales of the third book were sparking a craze.
Since I could check out hardcovers for free, I took the first one home. The next day, having read the whole thing, I brought it back. When she asked about it, my initial reaction was that they weren’t as good as the Narnia books. For all the fun ways it which it combined a boarding school novel with classic fantasy, I felt the book lacked depth in its characters – they were all too clearly black or white, with the only possible exception being Professor Snape, but he was so demonized by the main characters that it was hard to tell how much gray he had. So when she asked, I said “There’s no character in the book as good as Edmund in the Narnia books.”
She encouraged me to keep reading them. That was easy enough and the first one was enjoyable enough, so that night I brought home the second book. The next day, that came back and I brought home the third one. The second one had been about equal to the first, but the third one was a big step up. The characters had definitely begun to develop various shades of gray and the back story of the characters was beginning to fill in. So, there I was, now anxiously awaiting the fourth one, right at the head of the wave that was beginning to build.
Oh, and the good looking manager who insisted that I read them, told me how wonderful they were and defended their quality against the Narnia books? We got married in between books four and five and had Thomas before book six.