Saturday, January 15, 2011

Journey to the Library on the Prairie & Gothic Guilty Pleasures

Today we drove to the university library 40 miles away.  It's an absolutely flat drive, not very pretty, and in the winter the snow blows around, but it's worth it, even if you have to rent a car, because it's like visiting the best used book store you can imagine.  We've spent many afternoons lounging in this lovely windowed space and reading the diaries of Vera Brittain, the memoirs of W. H. Davies, short stories by Pulitzer Prize winner Zona Gale, obscure novels by Southern writer Caroline Gordon, and books I would never have picked up elsewhere. Saturdays are especially nice because no one's there.  The students are playing football in the snow, eating Chinese food at the union, or walking around in giggling groups until Sunday night when they rush back to the library.

Alas, this afternoon we were not allowed to check out books.  We had to renew our library card and were told we must wait till Tuesday to borrow books.
"But we're already in the system."
Apparently a librarian has to brood over our information first.  It seems unlikely, doesn't it?  We paid our $20 fee, so why did we have to wait?  But nobody official works there on the weekends, only students, and they don't know what's going on, so what could we do?
We were baffled, but found a good assortment of books to check out next time. 
Then we went to our favorite coffeehouse.
The usual crowd of university town residents, profs, and students loiter for hours in comfortable chairs and on couches, huddle over laptops at tables, or convene in wooden booths for conversation.   There are free refills of coffee.  I recommend the chocolate muffins.  They are worth a 40-mile trip.

Then we went to the used bookstore.

Now this particular used bookstore has had pretty much the same stock since 2001.  It has a good pop-and-literature section, a lot of science fiction and mysteries, and a room devoted to non-fiction.  Today we also found a new bargain section:  all of Anne Tyler's and Philip Roth's novels for $1 apiece (though we have most of these)  and a new copy of Sebastian Faulks's The Girl at the Lion D'Or for $1.  Then at the last minute I discovered a whole box of Victoria Holt paperbacks and chose one.  What a find!

It's when you go pulling books out of boxes that you get into trouble.  The clerk-cashier-book expert hadn't priced it and said it was not a bargain book.  She went back to look at the box , and after we enthused over Holt for awhile, said she could sell it to me for 75 cents.  See, if you're just NICE to people?  Then she suggested that she could cut me a deal if I took ALL the Victoria Holt books.
Wow, I would have loved that!   But my husband frowned.  Tension.  I said, laughing, to make the peace, that I'd have to come back another time.  Of course I don't drive so that's not going to happen, but I really disliked the scowling back and forth that went on between them over the cash transaction.  I simply faded into the background because if people are going to be rude--and these two decided to be--there's nothing you can do.

Now I have to tell you the truth.  If she had been young and cute, there would have been none of this scowling.  Don't you hate to see things from the male point of view?  He would have cooed, she would have seemed like an entrepreneur, and I would have been very irritated by the time I got out of there with THE WHOLE BOX OF VICTORIA HOLT PAPERBACKS.
When we got out of the store, he told me he couldn't believe her nerve.
"Aren't those romance novels?"
"No, they're Gothic novels!"
I tried in vain to explain the lure of Gothic novels of the 1940s to '70s.  Brave, intelligent, agile heroines travel to foreignn countries, fall in love with men with dark secrets, solve crime, and battle villains, though there's always romance and sometimes the men rescue them.  Other times, as in Mary Stewart's novels, they work together.  Believe me, these heroines aren't limp.   Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart (my favorite), Phyllis Whitney, Dorothy Eden, and several others were popular in my youth.  As Wikipedia says, "the Romantic strand of Gothic was taken up in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1938) which is in many respects a reworking of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. Other books by du Maurier, such as Jamaica Inn (1936), also display Gothic tendencies. Du Maurier's work inspired a substantial body of 'Female Gothics,' concerning heroines alternately swooning over or being terrified by scowling Byronic men in possession of acres of prime real estate and the appertaining droit de seigneur."

Well, we had a nice day, despite the tension at the store.  It's true that we didn't drive all the way there so I could buy Victoria Holt.  I'm going to put on my 'jamas and flaunt my Holt now.


Buried In Print said...

Heheh. Thanks for this smile!

Frisbee said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Anonymous said...

Trouble at both counters. Books come from different people than those who function as Cerberus at the counter.

The first photo of the snow through the window of the library, all grey and silver and white is pretty.

I've had this kind of thing happen with Jim. I'm standing there and we get into a conversation with another woman. Say we are buying a car and she's saleswoman. She challenges him somehow in ways I just never do -- not my personality to play these kinds of games. And before you know it, he's sneering and the two of them sarcastic to one another as if I'm not there. I've seen other women get this kind of rouse out of him I never seem to. I don't think it matters that much how they look but I do remember one was young and super-dressed up in the way of car saleswomen.

And yes how differently men respond to older and younger women.

Frisbee said...

The counter Cerberus! I love the image.

This was part Victoria Holt (I could hear him thinking: how dare she think the wife reads books with those covers?), part older woman (not attractive so not worthy of respect). The woman became equally rude so I lost sympathy for both of them. :)

Haven't read my Victoria Holt yet, but it's on the list.