Those of you who have been with me from the beginning with these Tales of the Book Trade posts will remember how everything began with Emerson. A man walked into the bookshop I was working in and asked for books by Ralph Waldo. We didn’t have any. The following week I found a volume of his essays in the back of the shop, then I found I owned a copy of Nature which I found impenetrable and I said I would donate it to the shop in case the man came back. I thought I would update you with the fact that I didn’t and why.
So, this is what happened. I was in Caffé Nero again (I’m a creature of habit) with my bag of books to donate and again I didn’t have a newspaper or a notebook to distract me. When will I learn? In my defence, there are usually newspapers to read or buy there but the recent Brexit dramas seemed to have made these more popular than usual. So I dipped into my bag of books to be donated and pulled out Second Nature by Michael Pollan and there was this quotation:
When one summer I came across Emerson’s argument ‘that weeds’ (just then strangling my annuals) were nothing more than a defect of my perception, I felt a certain cognitive dissonance.
Earlier in the week I had bought a book of Mary Oliver’s essays titled Upstream and there was a whole essay on Ralph Waldo including this description Harriet Martineau gave after she had been to his lecture.
There is a vague nobleness and thorough sweetness about him, which move people to their very depths, without their being able to explain why.
So something’s going on, isn’t it? But what? Do all roads lead me back to Ralph? I haven’t donated the book Nature because I feel life is flagging something up and I should pay attention. Otherwise the next thing to happen will be me being run over by a bus with Ralph Waldo Emerson on the side of it. So Nature stays and is being read albeit extremely slowly because his style takes some getting used to.
If last week was characterized by the fact nothing fell out of any book, this week was the opposite. Many, many tickets for musicals, ballet and theatre fell into my hands. A substantial number of them with the price £0.00 on them. I have to say I began to feel rather jealous. Who was this person who had gone to see The Blue God and Firebird for free on the 13th April 2011 at The London Coliseum? A critic, maybe.
There was also rather a sad note sent by someone who had phoned several times and texted with no result and had now resorted to a small card of a dolphin to try and make contact. The kind of card that if you were the recipient of would make you immediately feel so guilty that you too would stuff it in the nearest book and try and forget all about it.
The non-fiction version of Dan Brown (in terms of frequency of donation) is Bill Bryson or as I refer to him ‘Bloody Bill Bryson’ before throwing him in a hessian sack. Is there a single person in the country who does not have one of his books and who hasn’t split the spine reading him and is happy to donate him to us? He comes in so often I groan loudly when I see his books.
My most hated books can best be described as reckless men go on stupidly dangerous journeys in order to write a flashy ‘look at me’ book about it. I mean just stop it. Try staying home for a bit, keeping the cat fed, and renegotiating your energy bills. That would be more impressive than catching jungle rot in the Amazon. Any idiot could write a book about that. Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary is a much harder and, to my mind, more valuable thing to do.
Somewhat ironically given the feverish and self-destructive state of the Tory party at the present moment, I find a press release for a book titled Back from the Brink: The Inside Story of the Tory Resurrection by Peter Snowdon March 2010. Ha, ha, I think. Maybe the next book he writes will be titled From Resurrection to Annihilation: How the Tory party destroyed itself and the nation over Brexit. I tell you, nothing dates faster than a political book. Mind you, I also came across a letter to a journalist dated June 2009 concerning another book titled Beyond New Labour: The future of social democracy in Britain. The letter states ‘Across Europe Social Democracy appears to have profound structural problems.’ He got that right, didn’t he?
Finally, a customer comes in and asks if we have any books by Solzhenitsyn. I present her with August 1914, followed by The Gulag Archipelago and finally Cancer Ward (all chunky) all of which she firmly rejects. I feel like a cat trundling back and forth dropping mice at her feet only to be told they are the wrong type of mouse. I’m irritated, so I say to her, ‘We don’t have One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ (novella length). ‘How do you know that’s what I’m looking for,’ she asks. ‘Because it’s short,’ I reply. She then launches into a loud exposition of the problems caused by a lack of female sanitary products in Mozambique. She has the kind of voice that I imagine Christian missionaries have, not that I’ve met many. Now, it’s not that this isn’t a really important, worthy subject but she goes on for a very long time and in the end all I want her to do is stop. It occurs to me that she is punishing me for being snide and that I probably deserve it. In the end I’ve had enough and make some excuse and go and hide in the back room.
The last time I read One Day… was when I was seventeen and suffering from flu. I can’t separate the two experiences in my mind and have never read it again. Just looking at the cover of the book makes me feel that post-viral depression is going to reach up and drag me down into its pit and bind me in chains and never let me go and that the sun will never, ever shine again as long as I live. I wonder if that’s how Theresa May* is feeling.
I took another ten books to the shop this week so my total donation for the month is 70.
*Apologies to non UK readers but Britain is in political melt down at the moment over Brexit.