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Friday, April 14, 2006

Used books, used bookstores

The other day I took down from one of my bookcases a volume of Ezra Pound's poems, looking for his translations from the Anglo-Saxon. I only found one (I'd thought there were more), but as I was flipping through the book a sales slip fell out from against the back binding. Even without seeing the receipt I remembered perfectly well where and when I'd bought the volume, a first edition of the 1926 complete-poems Personae: it was in my first year of grad school, shortly after taking a a course on high modern poetry, that I'd come across the book in my favorite used bookstore. But opening up the handwritten sales slip and looking at the store name stamped across the top, I started thinking about how much I loved that store, and how much I regret its closing.

It's not just this one store, of course--an amazing used bookstore in Quaint Smallish City closed less than a year after George Washington Boyfriend started working there; a dusty hole-in-the-wall near my current apartment has moved most of its scholarly stock into an off-site warehouse so that it can fill its shelves with more "popular" volumes--but this particular used bookstore was one of my first and best experiences with the genre. I discovered it just after my sophomore year of college, when I was hanging around town for a summer internship and subletting an apartment that just happened to be right around the corner from the bookstore. It wasn't near my dorm or any university buildings that I visited regularly, but after that first summer I made it a habit to trek out there every few months. After I graduated, I returned nearly every time I was in town--and when I moved back for grad school I resumed my semi-regular visits.

The entire last year and a half that I was living in Grad School City, the store had a massive sale going on (I think 30-35%), and every time I stopped in I asked the owner, anxiously, if this meant that he was closing. "No, no," he said: he was just weeding out the stock. But it wasn't true; by March 2003 the store had closed.

Thinking about the bookstore got me perusing my shelves and wondering what, if anything, the particular books I bought there say about me, my evolving interests, or about the store's particular strengths. Here, then, is an annotated list, in approximately chronological order by purchase date:
  • Oscar Wilde, De Profundis. I was very into Wilde the summer I lived near the bookstore.
  • Evelyn Waugh, Diaries of Evelyn Waugh and The End of Battle (first edition). Ditto Waugh, though this interest has lasted longer and goes much deeper than my interest in Wilde.
  • A 1965 edition of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. I also bought this that first summer, and although it's turned out to be useful, I don't think I used it much until grad school. The one time I remember using it in college was when HK and I were having a phone conversation in which we were trying to understand the difference between metonymy and synecdoche. After we'd gotten off the phone I went off to dinner, and when I came back there was a message from her on my machine saying, in her trademarked faux-naive voice, "So, LL, if I just heard a girl say that she gave her boyfriend head last night--is "giving head" an example of metonymy, or synecdoche?" I called back and we argued about it for 30 minutes. (You wanna know what I was like in college? That's what I was like in college.)
  • A flimsy paperback copy of E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational. I bought this because a T.A. of mine kept mentioning it. I believe that I read it. I remember nothing about it.
  • A 1966 edition of Sylvia Plath, Ariel. Does this item need annotating? I was a 22-year old woman. Of course I bought this book.
  • A monumental, Heritage Society 3-volume edition of Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I have not read this. But I had good intentions when I shelled out the $65 for it early in grad school.
  • Ezra Pound, Personae.
  • Dorothy Parker, Enough Rope (first edition) and Not so Deep as a Well. My copy of Enough Rope, which is Parker's first volume of poems, has this inscription: "To Helene--with good intentions. From 'Shup.'" What does that mean? What does it MEAN? I puzzle over this every time I open the volume.
  • A Compact Oxford English Dictionary from the 1970s, complete with case and magnifying glass. This was one of my greatest coups, purchased for about $75 during that prolonged period where the bookstore was running its sale. I found the volume on a grey afternoon shortly after GWB and I had started dating. We'd had a nice lunch at a clubby little. . . well, club near campus and then had gone our separate ways. I was still wearing a skirt and heels, and I lugged the set, wrapped in plastic against the drizzle, back the 20-minute crosstown walk by myself.
  • A pristine set of the 10-volume Complete [Genre] Works of [Major Author]. This is really my prized purchase. The set is the standard critical edition of works that I expect to be studying for the rest of my career, but it's long out of print and impossible to find even through the used book network (two or three of the less-popular volumes show up occasionally, but not the ones that I really need). I'd been trying to get my hands on at least the most relevant volumes for years, checking ABE nearly every week, when this essentially untouched set showed up at the bookstore just a day or two before one of my periodic visits. The owner ran a quick internet search and then quoted me a price of $300. I took a deep breath and whipped out my plastic. I'm quite sure he could have gotten $1,000 from an internet buyer within weeks, but perhaps he was just trying to move stock. Apparently, it was only a month later that he closed up shop.
I admit that these days I buy most of my used books from ABE, where I can be reasonably sure of getting what I need and where I can comparison shop for prices. But I miss the serendipity of the used bookstore, and I particularly miss THIS bookstore. I'm pleased, though, to learn that there are some reputedly good used bookstores in the city and the region that I'll be moving to this summer.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 8:26 PM |


Blogger Tiruncula commented at 9:25 PM~  

There are definitely good used bookstores where I'm going to be living - you should come visit!

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 9:44 PM~  

I know there are--I've visited a couple of them! (I had friends who attended law school at VCI) Expect a visit . . .

Blogger RH commented at 10:07 PM~  

I can vouch for it -- you were like that in college.

Blogger Dr. Virago commented at 10:35 PM~  

Dammit, now you've got me obsessed with whether "giving head" is metonymy or synecdoche. I'm actually kind of thinking it's neither. I won't go on, though, as it really wasn't the point of your post. But apparently, I'm like you were in college! ;)

Blogger Terminaldegree commented at 11:10 PM~  

Well, now I had to go look up both "metonymy" and "synecdoche." First I'd heard of either term. And I still don't know which is a better term to use for the example you quoted. :)

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 11:21 PM~  

Dr. V: well, it wasn't not the point, either--when else was I going to get the chance to tell that story?

As I recall, the dispute boiled down to a question about what the term "head" actually meant. Does it refer only to what can be seen (from the male perspective). . . which is just a part of the whole? Or is it a metonymy for, basically, "mouth"? I think that I went with the latter explanation.

(I should have flyers made up: "English majors: all sex, all the time.")

Blogger Tiruncula commented at 11:41 PM~  

Erm, well, I always assumed it was the part for the whole, but a different part of a different whole, belonging, as it were, to the recipient.

*will never be able to teach those terms with a straight face again*

Anonymous What Now? commented at 12:11 AM~  

Leaving aside these crucial matters of terminology, I'm commenting just to note that there's a wonderful used bookstore here in Small City, and I think it stays in business because it also is a video rental place. I'm sure they make almost all of their money from the videos (and they have the best stock in town, so it's always where D. and I get our movies), and thus they stay in business for the books, which are clearly the owners' true love. It's a very good system.

Anonymous hk commented at 11:08 AM~  

For the record, I totally deny that I was like that in college. Mostly because I don't remember that conversation at all. (Of course, with my memory, that doesn't mean anything.) But damn, I was smart back then.

Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. commented at 6:55 PM~  

Hmmm--"giving head" is so close to literal that I'm inclined to agree with 'Terminaldegree'--actually, it's the *inversion* of synecdoche, instead of 'a part for the whole', it's 'the whole for a part.' But yeah, now I'm thinking it over. And on Easter, too, for shame.

Blogger Dr. Virago commented at 7:35 PM~  

J. Dryden has expressed more clearly why I was thinking it was neither metonymy nor synecdoche, and I was also in Tiruncula's camp, thinking it was *his*, erm, "head," in which case the expression is, as J. Dryden suggests, pretty literal (albeit for different reasons).

All of which is to say: I'm *still* thinking about this! Two days later!!

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