There are so many different paths I could take with the last book I finished: I could talk about how I acquire so many of these well-aged/gently-loved paperbacks, I could talk about the fun of finding notes in the margin (like Mark Twain!) or, I guess I could just review it. I’ve never been good at narrowing down my options so how about all three?
Unless I want this post to be my magnum opus, I’m going to have to release it in two parts.
Part 1 begins now!
Most Readers are one step away from being hoarders. Generally speaking, we
Just a few of the stacks of weathered books around my house
love to collect and display books. I presume that all Readers have a weakness, a kind of book they find nearly impossible to walk past in a bookstore. Coffee table books, for example. The shiny (or more likely matte these days) pages beckon to you with their ghostly pictures of identical Weimaraners or magically floating slightly nautical-looking staircases or colourful markets in Marrakech. Oprah Book Club books might be another (I feel like I’m dating myself saying this tho.. she doesn’t even do that anymore, does she?). Or, perhaps history or self help. Well, for me it’s anything that could be considered a classic as long as it’s in used condition. There are two reasons for this – one, who wants a brand-spanking new copy of Wuthering Heights or Cannibals and Christians when you could have a copy published in the 1960’s. And two, the odds of me ever getting around to reading all the “classics” are slim so I wouldn’t want to have to pay “brand-spanking new” prices.
So, this niche addiction led me to pick up my last read for just $1 at the last used book sale I attended. That’s less than 50% of the list price back in 1987 when the copy I have was published but probably a hell of a lot more than it cost when it was first published in 1911. The book, already, is Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I knew of Wharton for her Pulitzer Prize winning Age of Innocence but knew nothing about Edith Frome. But I had to have it for my collection!
Reading this was a bit of a different experience than I’m used to because some nice fellow (we’ll call him Joe) decided to make notes in the margins. Not just notes, actually, but questions on the inside cover. I’m assuming it was a ‘he’ based on the printing style though perhaps this is grossly erroneous – I had atrocious handwriting when I was a kid, “for a girl”. I’m also assuming the previous owner was not a Mark Twain type but rather Ethan Frome was likely assigned reading for a class.
Reading these questions before reading the book was a little unfair; a little like reading the
Some kid’s homework
introduction before the story itself. The first question asks, “Is it a tragedy? Is Ethan a tragic hero with a flaw who is responsible for the catastrophe?”. So without reading the book I can assume the answer bears some semblance to “Yes, it is a tragedy” and I know there is some impending catastrophe. However, the questions also help me to look further into details of the story. For example, the second question asks what impact imagery has on our interpretation of the characters. When’s the last time you thought about what you were reading in that way? I used to hate when teachers made you look for certain things in a book when reading it. For one, I was a rebel without a cause so “Damn the man” but two, I felt my own interpretation of the story should be good enough. Who cares if I didn’t notice the prevalence of the colour blue.
Flash forward ten years and it was actually quite refreshing to be challenged to look at a book from a different perspective than I normally would have. So, to whatever high school student (again, I assume) wrote his homework in the front cover of his book instead of a notebook, I thank you and hope you aced your English class!
P.S. A Reader friend of mine kindly notified me that Pages in Toronto closed a couple of years ago… so I guess I’ll have to find a different store to add to my top 10 list. Any suggestions?