Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Peeling History

I peeled stickers off my books. I peeled off my books' history.

The sticker can conjure atmosphere and occasion.

I'm desultorily reading Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Poet and Dancer, which came from a large urban independent bookstore, a kind of predecessor of Borders, which was wiped out in the mid-90s after Borders came to town. I loved browsing there and then gossiping with friends in the cafe over coffee and brioches. I discovered my favorite Margaret Drabble books there, The Radiant Way trilogy.
"These are for women in my age group, not yours," the exotic owner with the kohl-lined eyes told me. (Flattery...!) It was a dark city, goblinish really, dark enough to match Drabble's London.

On a break from Jhabvala, I'm reading Sense and Sensibility in a Modern Library paperback, which was purchased at Borders by my husband, who felt sorry for me having to read Austen in an enormous Complete Austen works with chocolate-stained pages from my adolescence. No more big indie bookstores with Austen! We only have two indies here, both with small inventory, neither guaranteed to stock S&S.

I'm a fan of genre fiction: I just don't seem to read it much except in summer. This afternoon I finished a police procedural mystery, Paul Mann’s Season of the Monsoon, which I found at the indie bookstore. Although it might turn up at Borders or B&N, the neighborhood indie owner has a sixth sense for the unusual mystery that might interest the discerning shopper. Set in Bombay, this well-plotted and engrossing mystery centers on the investigation of a murder in Bollywood. This is the first of the Geeorge Sansi mysteries, and he is a memorable character, the son of a famous Indian feminist and an English general, an Oxford-educated lawyer who joined the police force and has integrity in a corrupt system. I read mysteries mainly for the puzzle and characters, and almost couldn't finish this: the last third of the novel was too graphic.. It is an excellent police procedurals, but there is a reason I read few of them.

I'm trying to read more contemporary novels. After I read Jonathan Yardley's thoughtful review in The Washington Post of Mary Beth Keane’s The Walking People, I ordered it from Amazon. I'm halfway through it and extremely impressed and entertained: the story of Irish immigrants in America, beginning with Michael Ward's retirement and then backpedaling 50 years to tell the story of his wife Greta's childhood in Ireland, his as a traveler, and the strong will of Greta's sister Joanna which brought them to New York.

So...the history of four books and where I got them...One automatically bought independent before Borders and B&N gobbled up the scene. Of course some of the indie employees were kept on a part-time basis with no benefits and gladly jumped ship to Borders. It wasn't all an indie romance. A few of the old indies have hung on, but shopping has diversified. Accustomed to B&N coupons, one is shocked to buy four paperbacks at the indie for $45. Shopping is an important decision...some feel corporate bookstores are as exploitative as Wal-Mart. I cross my fingers and hope not. My house is an Amazon-guilt-free zone - meaning I buy from Amazon and feel no guilt because I can't get everything I want from local indies. So I support them ALL on my shopping days.


Ellen said...

I'm glad to hear you got a separate copy of _S&S_. I like the Signets -- the new ones with Drabble intro and tiny symbols in the center (a boat for _Persuasion_, a piano for _S&S_); also the Barnes & Noble editions.

That's a Jhabvala I've never heard of before. Today I watched _Room with a View_. She's a marvelous screenplay writer too.

I put the Arcadia essay on my blog and starting on Sunday I'll begin new blogs -- or writing. I'm reading Beauman's _The Other Elizabeth Taylor_. Just started it.

A good blog: Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover.

Glad we have a long weekend,


Mad Housewife said...

I'm really enjoying S&S. It's such a pleasure, and it is nice to have a light copy one can read in the horizontal position.

I'll read your Arcadia essay this morning.

Happy long weekend!