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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Books from Thrift Stores and Some Numbers

Last I reported on The Brothers Karamazov, I was on page 14 and fully expecting to give up on the novel, yet once more. But I am happy to report, dear readers, that I am now on page 644, with little more than 100 pages to go. I persevered because, if I can't get through this novel, who can? I am highly educated and love reading more than almost anything else. Also, based on my experience teaching, I am fearful that the skill of reading complex literary works may be dying out.

After the difficult beginning (and the novel is difficult all the way through), eventually one realizes that one is in the midst of a masterpiece. Truly breathtaking. And now, of course, I am reluctant to keep going, because I don't want the novel to end.

As I've said before I am lucky to like reading, and, certainly reading is a frugal pastime. My copy of The Brothers Karamazov is a nice one: it's the newish translation by the husband-wife team who also did the Anna Karenina that Oprah sent to the top of the bestseller list a few years ago. My book is the 2002 FSG edition that has a price of $17.00 on the back. Although I could get this from the library, it is a book I want to own. As it happens, I got it from the library book sale for $1.00. What a gift that someone donated this book!

Even better is the inscription inside the front cover in writing that looks a bit like engraving, a carefully scripted message to the next owner of the book:

Neal Pendleton Library

This book is the first that my beloved wife, Patricia, recommended that I read, after we first met in 1953.

What a wonderful message to me! And I just checked: Mr. Pendleton is listed in the phone book so he still lives nearby.

I love finding things in books. Mostly, I find boarding passes, usually stuck in an early page of an obviously abandoned book. Once I found a book inscribed to someone by the author, who was a few years ahead of me in college! I also found a cache of books that had been owned by a local author of some repute: in the books were photographs, receipts, and more. She was obviously a wealthy woman. Once, in the big Barnes and Noble in New York City (this was in 1977, before B and N stores were everywhere), I bought a used copy of The Crisis of the Aristocracy for a course I was taking. Out popped a receipt from the Reed College Bookstore from a few years before, when I had attended that college across the country in Oregon. And, one of these days, I may write about the inappropriate email sent by an English professor to a student, which she stashed in a book (Terry Eagleton's book on literary theory) that she donated to Goodwill.

Before I return to my book, let me share some other numbers.
Talbots stock: $5.43 (I would have tripled my investment!)
Edmund Andrews's Busted: Amazon sales rank of 63,459.

And so, Dear Readers, have you found anything interesting or surprising in used books?


Over the Cubicle Wall said...

I have the Knopf version, but I still haven't been able to plow through it. I can get through (and enjoy) works from Melville, Faulkner, Dickens, Shakespeare, etc., but Dostoevsky has me whipped as of now.

There is great scene in Freaks and Geeks where the ninth grade geeks turn in book reports on The Novelization of Star Wars, Yes I Can - the Sammy Davis Jr Story, and Al Jaffe's Mad Cap Humor. They are quickly assigned Crime and Punishment as a sort of punishment. If ninth graders can be expected to read Dostoevsky, I should too.

Chance said...

I've found stuff in thrift store books forever, and since I love ephemera, every piece becomes evidence in the imagined story.

I've found lots of boarding passes, a WWII ration book, parking tickets, both boring and interesting emails, the shopping list, etc. The best thing I found was a terrific love letter from the 50's -- whoever you are, Sweet Jane, I bet you had a wonderful life given that you inspired such romantic sentiments.

Vicky said...

The Crisis of the Aristocracy! OMG...the theoretical linchpin of my dissertation. :-D How strange to have your copy track back to Reed.

The one i can't get through is A la recherche du temps perdu. I've tried to read it in French. I've tried to read it in English. The best I've managed to do is about 60 pages.

That is the most touching inscription I've heard of. Presumably the beloved has passed? I imagine him "downsizing," forcing himself to sell much that he -- they -- loved. Have you considered trying to reach him with him to let him know you have the book?

Hereabouts, the most recent archaeological discovery was in a lovely cookbook from an estate sale: Molly O'Neill's A Well-Seasoned Appetite. The book itself seemed almost unused. Hidden between the pages about halfway through, still in its envelope postmarked 1999, was a formal notecard. The writer said:

"Dear Eileen,

"I can't tell you how absolutely delighted I was to receive the Well Seasoned Appetite. I just love it!

"Thank you so much for being so thoughtful. What better way to remember a friend. Each tme I use it I will think of you.

"I'm so glad we shared part of our lives with each other. It's been my pleasure to know such a lovely lady.

Love, Arlene"

I've wondered if Eileen placed Arlene's card inside her own copy of the book, or if something happened to Arlene close on the heels of this correspondence and someone returned the book to Eileen, who might have kept the card in memory of her friend.

Duchesse said...

The thrifts where I live are duds for books, mostly romance novels. So I either buy new or get it from the library. I have resolved: book in, book out.

Frugal Scholar said...

@cubicle--I wish that high school kids wouldn't be assigned books they are not ready for! It makes them hate reading forever after.

Now that I'm done, I realize that I am the perfect age to read the book. So, try waiting about 20 years.

@Chance--I hope you kept the letter!

@Vicky--Mr. FS has read ALL of Proust numerous times in English AND in French. He is a very slow reader and I think that helps with Proust's sentences. I am a fast reader. However, next up is a re-read of Swann's Way (en anglais) and then I'll try the other ones.

@Duchesse--Hmmmm. Maybe you're competing with too many grad students. I also remember that you said le Duc had 5000 books--I think that's more than I have.

Shelley said...

I go to a sewing/crafting group of little old ladies (average age about 80) who all retired from a sewing factory in the North of England when it closed. The group was for a while affiliated with a charity Age Concern and we got a bunch of boxes of sewing supplies and books from a lady who had been a home ec teacher. The women didn't want the books and I took armloads. Amongst many others, I now have a book now from about the 1920s that teaches laundrywork: all about the different types of fibers, the process one undertakes on laundry day with boilers, blueing and clothes lines. I get a sense of abundance in the form of relaxation and leisure knowing I don't have to wash my clothes in this way!

Atlantic said...

Love Tolstoy, Lermontov, Pushkin but cannot stand Brothers K.

Proust--could not put that down.