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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Things Found in Thrift Store Books: An Old Friend (?)

I have this plan--so far unrealized--to write a whole series of posts on "things found in thrift store books." I am always amazed at how I often find JUST the book I want to read, if not now, then in a month or so. Or even a year or so. Often, this is a book I never would have heard of. That's how I found The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, some time before it was made into a film.

Then there are the physical objects I find: airline boarding passes, notes, receipts, photos.

But recently I found a book that--fortuitously--bought to me someone I haven't seen in about 30 years. The book is called French Lessons. Published by the University of Chicago Press, it was written by a professor of French--Alice Kaplan--who is about my age, but is a fantastically successful academic, with a position at Duke University. The book, with ecstatic blurbs by reviewers in highbrow media outlets, is autobiographical: the author's father was involved in the Nuremburg Trials; the author meditates on such subjects as language, identity, and academic politics, ambition, and success--all things I would find rather interesting.

How could I resist? Especially since Habitat for Humanity was having an "all books 25 cents sale." Also, who else who frequents the Habitat for Humanity thrift store would buy this book? It was positively my duty to purchase it.

As it turned out, I found the book kind of a letdown. In spite of the author's interesting life and topics, the book was kind of boring. Oh well. I did read through the sections on her time in the graduate program at Yale, where she was involved with a fellow named Bill Golden, and suffered through the anxieties and politicking of a small and very political department. So I wended through the book in a rather desultory way. (Sorry about my poor review. Maybe it's me. The blurbs really ARE ecstatic, e.g. "most engaging Bildungsroman" blahblahblah)

Then, I perused the Acknowledgements, in this book at the end, rather than the beginning. There, in the middle of the top line of a page was a name that jumped out at me: Nicholas -------. Oh my: an old friend from college, who had gone to Yale in French, and who had--so I heard--left academics. We did not part under pleasant circumstances.

So, of course, I returned to the Yale section to see if there were any references to him. After a while, I realized that Bill Golden (whom she also calls Guillaume
Dore), the sometime love interest of the author, MUST have been Nick. Who else was "painfully thin," aggressively workaholic, had a New York father who had mysteriously lost all his money, had a beautiful French mother, who left her very young son with his father, so eager was she to get a divorce and return to France. Oh yeah--and who else also went to the Lycee Francais in New York City.

So I found out that Nick, who, last I saw him was in graduate school desperately desirous of becoming a protege of the famous professor Paul De Man (who was later revealed to have written for pro-Nazi newspapers in Belgium), wrote an overly detailed and lengthy dissertation,quit a teaching job mid-class, was doing something with computers, married someone who "understood" his complete self, and had an indeterminate number of children. And apparently was wearing overalls as he surveyed his yard post-academics.

Well, I'm not sure why I wrote all this down, except that it was a weird experience. I almost emailed the author to ask if Bill Golden was Nick! Then I realized the book was published in 1993--more than 15 years before I read it.

Of all the things I've found in thrift store books, this was the strangest. Perhaps my next installment will detail the inappropriate email a professor sent a student, that was folded into Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory.

So Readers: any interesting finds in books?


Duchesse said...

Sounds like what you found this time was an echo of your past. I've often wished I could learn more of what became of the cast of characters I knew at that time. Even if published 15 years ago, if the author is around, she might respond.

SewingLibrarian said...

I find all kinds of things in books that people donate to libraries. I always pull them out and destroy them before the book goes either into the collection or on the library sale shelf. The spiciest was a letter from one faculty member to another while they were having an affair (one of them was married). As I recall, one or both had left the university by the time the book showed up at the library. Apparently the affair had run its course.

thecouchpotatoblog said...

I borrowed a copy of Anne of Green Gables once and found a lovely photograph of a grandfather with his grandchildren. Th inscription read "To my angels, with all my love, Gramps". I always smile when I think back on it.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--Actually, it was an unpleasant experience. Timetraveling back to my insecure college days is no fun. It was nice to know that the author had similar issues with this fellow.

@Sewinglibrarian--Wow! I'd be tempted to keep the stuff. I am impressed that you act as you do.

@Couchpotato--That's a beautiful story--thanks.

Funny about Money said...

What an odd experience. I think if something like this happened to me, I might find it a little unnerving, too.

Every now and again I'll come across some mention of a character from the past. Once in a while these will involve some small revelation or something will click into place, and suddenly I'll understand something that I didn't know then. It can create an uncomfortable feeling...especially if you realize the person wasn't quite what you thought at the time.

Well, at least she didn't write about you. That's something.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Funny--She couldn't write about me because she didn't know me. I was a college friend of the fellow; she knew him in grad school!

Funny about Money said...

LOL! All of which is a good reason to stay clear of writers. ;-)