Friday, August 28, 2009

Lost in a Town of Books

Mind you, I love books and accumulate them constantly, with every intention of reading them. Over the course of the summer, I have aggressively cleaned my bookshelves at least twice, and hauled several large boxes over to Half Price Books (who generously paid me about $20 for easily 50 books or more). But even after that, I was able to pull 14 books that I have never read – only one of which was a gift – to add to my Project Reading Pile.

When I lived in Manhattan, I was within walking distance of the Strand Bookstore, whose proud tagline was “7 Miles of Books.” It’s a cavernous, un-air-conditioned warehouse that is crammed full of every imaginable type of used book. I loved the smell of the book dust, and the thrill of the wandering through the endless piles of books and letting something catch my fancy. It was a great way to spend a New York Sunday: go to a diner, have some cheap eggs and coffee, then wander aimlessly through a bookstore for hours. It wasn’t far from home, so towing home a few pounds of books wasn’t hard. $4 for an old hardcover GWTW; $1.98 for an early In Cold Blood; several biographies of Dorothy Parker, none more than a few dollars; cookbooks; coffee table books; and so on.

I had mountains of books when I lived in Manhattan, and when I left, they went into boxes and were hauled around the country with me (to Stratford, CT; Portland, OR; and then three different houses in Seattle, WA). In my recent cleaning, I discovered boxes of books that had never been read; still, it was hard to part with them – they all seemed like things I should want to read. I just don’t always have the time, so they keep sliding down the book list.

 So I was intrigued when I ran across “Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books,” by Paul Collins. The author moved his family to the town on Hay-on-Wye, Wales, which has 1,500 inhabitants and 40 antiquarian bookstores. The book is wonderful – part travelogue, part ode to the joy of books. The author’s wit is delightful, and I enjoyed the book trivia: I had no idea anyone had ever re-written (and published) Robinson Crusoe in words of one syllable; or written a book of poetry titled “Current Coins, Picked Up at the Railway Station” (Come with my, my numismatic friend …); or published a hoax called “I Was Hitler’s Maid.”

I finished it in less than a week. Current Count: 10 books read, 40 more to go.

So far, so good. I'm pleased to be on track. My stepchildren are here this weekend but I hope to find some time to read; we'll see.

1 comment:

  1. I love the Strand. So jealous you lived near it! Whenever I go to NYC, even for the day, I try to get down there. Such an incredible place!


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