Booklust: …at The Deerfield Inn

This past weekend I spent one night at The Deerfield Inn, in Deerfield, Massachusetts, on the way back from the Adirondacks. It’s the sort of place that has well-upholstered chairs and sofas ringing a fireplace in a sitting room whose walls are lined with writing desks and grandfather clocks, and where tea is served for the guests at quarter to five every afternoon. It’s also the sort of place that has shelves full of books for guests to peruse throughout their stay, and though I wasn’t there long enough to make much headway, I did spot these volumes which I’ve added to my “I hope I’ll read them someday list.”

Isak Dinesen (aka Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke)'s book "Last Tales."

Keeping with my recent scandinavian reading interests (many months behind the rest of the world I’m finally reading Steig Larsson’s trilogy, the only book I saw as many copies of as I did translations of Twilight while riding various foreign metros), Isak Dinesen’s Last Tales, a collection of short stories written just before the Danish author’s death in 1962 was very tempting.

Also of interest, Paul Bowles’ (yes, the husband of Jane Bowles, whose novel Two Serious Ladies I wrote so effusively about a month or two ago) novel The Sheltering Sky,

Cover of Paul Bowles' "The Sheltering Sky."

and Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away. I’m pretty much interested in everything O’Connor. I spotted the massive tome The Habit of Being: the Letters of Flannery O’Connor, in the wonderful Old Harbor Books, an independent bookstore in Sitka, Alaska. I didn’t buy it mainly because I was traveling with a limited amount of luggage—a fact that has saved me from many a purchase over the past year or so. I still really want that one (it’s sitting on a shelf at a bookstore two blocks from here right now. I think it’s only a matter of time) and I’d also like to track down a copy of O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, which I read about here, in NPR’s “You Must Read This” section. I don’t know what it is about creative non-fiction, essays, reflections, and “occasional prose” that has me so infatuated right now, but I think I’m a little a bit in love with this elusive, intriguing genre.

Booklust: of the priciest variety!

Every month, I get several emails from AbeBooks, an online marketplace for booksellers to market their inventories of new, used, rare and out-of-print books. One of the regular, monthly emails is the “AbeBooks Most Expensive Sales of the Month,” and I almost always browse through their list of the 10 priciest sales, not so much because I’m in the market—or even fantasizing about being in the market—for any of these books, but because I love to see the variety of books available which appear on the list (and yes, it’s amusing to see how much people are willing to spend on them).

The books that show up from month to month are amazing: an autographed first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a 1934 edition of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata with etchings by Picasso, a first edition, first issue copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the list goes on and on. Items range contemporary favorites like the books of J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer to the 1806 A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster or a 16th century edition of Chronica, by Ramon Muntaner, detailing his adventures as a 14th century mercenary.

Often I recognize titles on the list, because the greatest hits of modern literature show up quite frequently, as do other canonical authors from further in the past. This month’s list is no exception, containing an illustrated, 1833 edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, a copy of Ann Radcliffe’s genre-launching classic The Mysteries of Udolpho, and a Dali-illustrated edition of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. What surprised me about this month’s list, however, was that one of my favorite fantasy writers appears on it, and he isn’t C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien. Clocking in quite respectably at #5, and selling for the impressive sum of 4,500 dollars, is a British first-edition set of The Belgariad,  a five novel fantasy series by the late American writer David Eddings.

I reread The Belgariad at the end of the summer every year while I was in prep school, because returning to its familiar world and well-drawn, endearing characters made me feel less anxious about returning to a place I didn’t fancy very much. Admittedly, my first two or three times through the books I read copies stolen from my brother Andrew, but I’ve since then begun to re-collect the series on my own, and I took the first four novels of The Belgariad (in non-British, non-first edition, six dollar paperbacks) with me when I moved to my apartment in Cambridge last month.

It was exciting to see Eddings’ name up there with Dante, Milton, and Radcliffe. It’s hard to think of an author whose works I’ve enjoyed as often and as consistently as Eddings. Other than an autographed first edition of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, no book on the “AbeBooks Most Expensive Sales of the Month List” has given me such a smile.

Book Lust: Marcus Aurelius

Not surprisngly, I’ve got a bit of a book-buying problem. And by problem, I mean I’ve got a book-buying addiction. I love books, and bookstores, and browsing for books, which is all well and good. But I also really like buying books. There aren’t that many things I’m keen to own, but I’m always happy to add to my library. Unfortunately, if I bought every book that caught my fancy, eventually one giant stack would tip over, triggering a domino-style collapse throughout my entire apartment, burying me alive. Or burying me dead, if I was lucky enough to get an OED or The Complete Works of Shakespeare to the head during the downfall.

Two things save me from this fate: my public library card, and my habit of making interminable lists of the books I want to read in the future (once I toil through my already sky-high To-Be-Read stack). Since I got my iphone (and started getting strange looks when I walked around bookstores furtively copying down titles in my notebook) these lists have begun to have a more visual existence. I thought I’d share some of my book lusts with you. Maybe some of you have a similar problem…in which case, I’d love to hear what books you’re lusting after!

Biography of "Marcus Aurelius" by Frank McLynn.

I was at the Harvard Bookstore listening to Nicholas Carr’s talk about The Shallows when I spotted Frank McLynn’s Marcus Aurelius in the biography section. I’ve always been intrigued by Rome’s philosopher-emperor, and several of the characters in Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves read and quote extensively from Aurelius’ Meditations. I didn’t buy it, but I’m trying to track down a used copy of Meditations, and once it’s in hand, I’ll make a trip to the library for McLynn’s biography. How could you not want to learn more about the man who said “Soon you’ll be ashes or bones. A mere name at most–and even that is just a sound, an echo. The things we want in life are empty, stale, trivial.” Perfect beach reading, right?