Saturday, November 22, 2008

Serendipity: the Art of Book Buying

People have a variety of reading habits and so a variety of book buying habits. Mine is very simple: I depend on serendipity. I read book reviews but am almost never inspired to go to a book store for a particular book. A certain set of neurons in my brain has been set aside for remembering author's names and titles and attaching a positive or negative charge to them. These neurons are not totally dependable but they do a passable job.

In NYC a chain of thrift stores called Housing Works attracts people who have high quality taste in literature, so much so that Housing Works even has an entire outlet that is a bookstore but it is in the Soho and I am rarely in that area. However two of their regular stores are essentially on my "beaten track". I stop in frequently and more often than not, the only purchase I made is a couple of books. Frequently a sign on the door will announce "Today all books 40% off" or even "all books $1." I nearly always find something, often by non-American authors that I want to read. They've piled up, of course, I can't read nearly as fast as I can buy. But that's okay.

In other places I like to go to used book stores too, but rarely do I find any with the quantity of good quality books that Housing Works sells. When I am in Hyannis visiting my daughter I like to stop at the main street used book store. I think it's called Tim's, although that might have been the name of it's predecessor. Their prices are a bit high but I get the feeling a lot of summer people who are probably Boston academics as well as Cape Cod's indigenous literary folks, sell their extra books there. They have a prodigious poetry section that I always check out.

Right now I am reading Scott Russell Sanders' Writing from the Center, a book of essay, in uncorrected advance copy [though it was published in '99]. I would have purchased this book wherever I might have found it for I once met Sanders' at a writer's conference and know him to be a professor [perhaps retired by now] at Indiana University. A man who cares deeply about writing well and also about the Midwest and about ecology. These are very satisfying essays. He defines for me once again why it is I and so many others felt it necessary to leave the Midwest -- de Toqueville defined it all before others noticed -- what a genius that young Frenchman was! His insights are just staggering. But Sanders' insights are also deeply satisfying. I have just one final essay to enjoy in a short while, then I will go on to a very clever Julian Barnes novel I've started and a book of Tess Gallagher's poems that I've been savoring for several days -- all these latter were Housing Works finds.

When one is finished I will stand in front of the "to read" bookcase and pick up one or two books, contemplate them, assess my mood, perhaps read the jacket blurbs once more and choose the next. No agenda. The variety is broad enough I can say, enough Americans for a while, how about a Scandinavian? How about a South American?

While I would enjoy the camaraderie of a book club, [I once belonged to a lively, wonderful one] I think I've become so independent about what I read and so picky about good writing that I would have great difficulty fitting into any group. Growing older may mean growing crabby-er. Ah well, it's prsonal enjoyment. And certainly the price is right.

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