Used books

>> Saturday, February 02, 2008

It was a good day today. Had lunch with Mom, went to a used bookstore and picked up a bunch of Ray Bradburys I hadn't read since junior high. Ended up at Smelly Cat with a latte and The Martian Chronicles; it's a funny thing, the language still crackles and sparks (maybe even more than I remembered), but the book's postwar angst and Romantic yearnings don't quite resonate the way they used to.

The copy in question is a paperback that used to belong to the Richwood Public Library 0n 4 East Ottawa St., Richwood Ohio; the 20th printing of the Bantam Paperback, apparently from 1967. It's come a long way to end up in North Carolina. One wonders if it was sold by the library at some fundraiser, or if it wandered away. Perhaps some junior high school student in Ohio never returned it and eventually moved down here; it might have been in a box in her attic or stuck on a living room shelf for years until she decided to trade it. I say "she" because there's a name written (twice) on the inside back cover: "Rita Cox." Hello, Rita. Thank you for keeping the book in such nice shape and passing it along so I could have it for two dollars. "Lovely Rita," etc.--I'll bet you get that a lot, seeing as how that song came out in the same year this book was printed.

I don't buy used books as often as I should. Truth be told, I really shouldn't have bought these used books: I have a huge stack of books I already need to get through, including the ones you can see in my Goodreads list in the sidebar. And my motives in buying half the store's stock of Bradburys may have had less to do with the "hey, it's been more than 20 years since I read Dandelion Wine" than it did with the nostalgic feelings invoked when I saw those familiar covers and thought back to days of devouring books from the Piedmont Middle School library in the gray '80s.

Nostalgia is a terrible thing, I might add. It's one of the opiates, I believe, listed as a Schedule I drug by the Controlled Substances Act. Addictive and dangerous, with no therapeutic value. Childhood wasn't a terribly happy time for me: I was unpopular, fearful and depressed; in this regard, I now suspect I was like all children, but at the time it seemed to me that I was unique in all of these regards. Then again, I was a nerd and unduly thoughtful, and it's hard to be thoughtful without being scared: almost everything is scary if you think, even kittens (a kitten could decide to curl up on your face while you're sleeping and smother you to death). It is quite possible that the majority of other children were oblivious and therefore less frightened of things. I say this is possible because I believe that many of these kids grew up to be Republicans. I mean, I was quite certain the world was going to end in a nuclear holocaust, a fear that now seems slightly absurd despite the fact that there are still silos chock-full and brimming with pent-up nuclear holocausts, and I was fairly sure that Mr. Reagan--who we all know was a safe, kindly, honest, fiscally responsible guardian of American freedoms and single-handed cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union two years after he left office--I was fairly sure Mr. Reagan would be a major cause of the end of the human race. Now that I'm older and wiser, I see that he was a wonderful, grandfatherly man who smelled like love and always had candy in his pockets.

But I digress: the real point was that I was in a used bookstore, and I saw these familiar book covers from a writer who I loved as a child, and so I bought even more books when I already have too many to read. Saw the books, and also smelled them: that dusty, musty smell of brown paper and fading ink. I don't get to enjoy that as often now, buying new books or even e-books that don't even smell like anything at all. And they brought back memories of childhood moments when I wasn't unhappy, time spent curled up on the seat of a schoolbus or in a ratty, duct-taped, overstuffed brown vinyl chair that I refused to let my parents get rid of (it lived in my bedroom, sometimes covered with a blanket, until it became so ratty it had to go live in the garage; I don't remember where it went to live after that, poor, faithful chair), moments when I was off in another word.

Reading a book you loved as a child is a dangerous thing, like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute or traveling by pogo stick in Cambodia. Most of the time, you discover that the book you adored when you were young is utterly terrible. I'm happy to say that I discovered, while sitting in a rocking chair at a coffee shop with my latte, that The Martian Chronicles was mostly wasted on me when I was a kid: Bradbury's prose is richer than I remembered, and the book is much funnier and more serious than I recalled. (A chapter in which a Martian husband, concerned that his wife is about to leave him for an alien, takes his bee-gun out to meet the new arrivals from Earth makes for a brilliantly comic and sad domestic drama.) So, I suppose, nostalgia did me a good turn this time. For once. Probably the last time for a while; nostalgia still owes me twenty dollars and an apology for that one time.

Here's another funny thing: my original plan for this post was to put up a very, very sad Azure Ray video because I had nothing to blog about. But then it turned out I did have something to write about after all. Go fig. So I'll save the very, very sad Azure Ray video for another time, and we can be sad together then.


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