I usually wait until the end of the month to post about book acquisitions, but this month, there are a lot (49 to be exact). So, let’s get to ’em!
I’ll start with a special one. A few weeks ago an elderly patron came in to sell books, and as I sorted them out I noticed that a number of them were quite old but in terrible condition. I did not buy any of those and, as often happens, this patron left the remainder with us. But I had set this one aside and asked if it should be taken back, and the patron replied no, it had belonged to her great-grandmother’s best friend and she had no use for it. Knowing that it would likely be recycled, I decided to take it home with me.
This is an “Album of Friendship” for someone named Belle, and is dated 1871. It is an illustrated book with blank pages for people to write greetings and words of advice to the owner. Here is what is on the opening page:
A few of the pages are on different, colored paper that may have been tipped in later. This one has a prevalent sentiment about marriage and, stuck in the spine, was a handmade paper doll:
Some of the pages just have a signature and a date; all of the entries were made between 1871 and 1873, and relate to Belle’s years at the Normal School in Cortland, the predecessor of the State University at Cortland. There is little personal information and many of the entries are formal, quoting Latin or poetry or common sayings. The illustrations that appear are an odd mixture with no clear theme between them, except that they are unexceptional. For example:
There are pictures of people riding horses, of cherubs, and bucolic settings. It is a maudlin thing, really, but I wanted to keep it because as I leafed through it I realized that this might be all the evidence that is left of Belle’s life, and I wanted, for now anyway, to be the keeper of that. I am still not sure what I will do with it in the long run, although perhaps The 1890 House would like it.
I wonder what Belle thought of it. Did she cherish these signatures and words, flip through the book in later years to conjure memories of her time in college? Was it something she forgot quickly, or was bitter about when she found it years later? Did it get buried in a trunk and just passed along with other detritus as time went by? Why did it end up in the possession of her best friend (whose name I wish I had gotten, to see what she had, or had not, written in the book)? It has endured for 140 years, but why?
I find looking at this book compelling also because I am writing a story about my American grandfather and a book he never wrote. Like this book, it is about his life, but the book at the heart of the story is very different. But I cannot help but wonder if, as we increasingly digitize our world, if we will start to lose something of the past. Books are always books, material objects that do not require a particular computer system to translate and that by their presence demand some sort of attention, even if it is to just toss it in a recycling bin. Will our past become more ephemeral as we stop using physical books? One thing that I love about selling used books is how people’s lives are often inscribed and passed on in them, and I fear that we will lose that as time goes on. What other effects will come from the digital transformation of human communication?
Rather than ask more questions, I’ll show you more books:
Here’s some non-fiction. All except Nothing: A Short Introduction were free books. The Geronimo memoir was something I read in 1990 when I decided to teach myself more about Native American history. I tore through a few dozen such books, and then some general history, and then some issue-related books. I also read about the circumstances of this book’s production, which was as much of an education as the memoir itself. People of Plenty is a classic sociological work that nicely captures a certain arrogance and sense of predestination in the US in the mid-20th century. Nothing is going near the top of the TBR pile for an essay on the idea of nothing and annihilation I want to write inspired by Eric Basso’s essay on the topic.
More nonfiction. I collect books on conditions of life in various historical eras, and writing about Gramsci. The Covert Enlightenment sounds quite interesting as an attempt to discuss countercultural trends in the 18th-century. The Surrealist text is a rescue; I bought it for the store but deep inside a former owner highlighted some of the artists’ names and a few passages, so I rescued it from the dollar cart. There’s a lot of good information in it and I’ve been reading the bits about Leonora Carrington in particular. Very cool book.
And more nonfiction. A few classics, and a book that sounds very intriguing: Pandemonium, which is a collection of writings on the first reactions to the Industrial Revolution from various observers. To Weave and Sing is one of the best ethnographies I have ever read, as it talks about issues of meaning and aesthetics as central to a community’s life.
Heading into literary territory now. I am always on the lookout for Norton Critical Editions. I have heard that this edition on Spenser is not as good as the previous one, but it still has a lot of writing by and about him that looks useful. The Dick and Shklovsky should both be provocative reads. The Bova was a whimsical choice that I might pass on to someone else.
Poetry. The Baudalaire books came to us with some pencil marks, and were left behind when rejected for purchase. The poetry monographs came from a large cull a co-worker did in the poetry section; I read a few poems in each and they seemed good enough to read further. Coming to Light is a lovely collection of Native American stories and poems in new translation, and I lost my previous copy so it was nice to find a replacement in good condition.
And now onto fiction. I have no idea what to expect from Extreme Fiction, but I had to at least check it out based on the title. The Cambridge Companion is new, and I am very curious to see how the various subjects are handled. I have a sneaking suspicion that I may have the Borges tucked away somewhere, and if so, I’ll pass it on to someone. La Bas (Down There) and El Borak sould each be fun reads in their own way.
More Borges, which I own but not with the Gibson introduction. The Bradbury is another classic collection. I’m thrilled to have received a copy of The Inheritance collection as I am an admirer of Lindholm/Hobb, from Wizard of the Pigeons to her flawed but still absorbing Soldier Son trilogy. I have the first two books of the recent Dragon series but have not cracked them yet. The Leicht and Kiernan go near the top of the TBR pile.
More fiction. I have not read The Sheep Look Up since the early 1980s and I think I shall have to re-read it soon, given the tenor of the times. The other collections are all by authors I have not read. The Asimov has a few old stories I want to re-read, and then perhaps I’ll pass it on to someone else.
Finally, here is one that given directly to me by the author:
This is a self-published labor of love by the author, who gave me a review copy to examine. Claws and Saucers is a big book, and it is packed full of discussion and analysis. I have read a few parts of it and it’s a fun book; I went to a number of individual entries to see the author’s take on a given film. The format facilitates this approach, although what happens next is that you see the title of a movie you never heard of before and start reading that entry, and soon you can find yourself exploring a given section. The entries vary from one to four paragraphs and are more film fan than film critic in tone. That and the amusing ratings system (there is a score for “Camp”) make the book a combination of reference work and appreciation of a huge field of films.
This was a pretty heavy month for book acquisitions, and next few months may be the same as students prepare to leave Ithaca for the summer. We saw an early spate of selling in sync with the spring weather, and I think that as it gets warmer we’ll see more people unloading books. It’s odd how these activities intensify and dissipate with the seasons. I’ll miss spring cleaning when the Singularity arrives.