September 12, 2006

Maigret and bookstore musings…

Posted in Books, FountainPens, Pipes, Rants at 2:00 pm by a11en

I have a confession to make- I love books. I love books so much that I have a number of books currently being read in parallel, and often a large number of books on my shelf that are wanting to be read, taunting me, asking me to open their covers… There are a number of things I’ve figured out about books, and I’ll spare you a good deal of them in this post.

Allow me to digress slightly into the land of ex-girlfriends. I promise we will find ourselves out on the other-side of this digression back in the land of book-talk. I have to tip my hat to an old girlfriend of mine, Sigrun. She came around at a time in my life when she was desperately needed. I had finished a very crazy relationship with a very troubled, but wonderful, woman who is still in my prayers (as is Sig of course). Sig, however, was like a ray of blinding light coming through a recently swept-aside bedroom curtain after a 4 year storm. The darkness giving way, Sig was my therapy. Among other wonderful things, she showed me simple kindnesses I had forgotten that were a part of a good relationship based upon mutual love and respect. For that she will always be a dear friend, no matter where she travels. Another wonderful thing Sig taught me, was that there are actually places where old books go to find a new home: used bookstores. I can almost guarantee to you, the reader, that there is at least one used bookstore near you- possibly two or three. They are wonderful safe-havens for books that, as I will describe shortly, have been lost to some, but remain available to be found…

A lot of these wonderful and lost books can be found at libraries (another great invention). I, however, figured out a long time ago that libraries are wonderful things, but not if you read books like I do. I have the tendency to make them draw on for ages- and having the ability to set a book down, and not feel under the gun to finish it, allows me to have numerous “friends” on my bookcase that aren’t yelling at me to get them back to their Dewey-allocated shelving units before the guillotine drops.

And so- I brave the world of crazy old houses turned into used-book-safe-havens with rickety steps and crazy soft-spoken (and obviously way too peaceful to be human) cash-till-attendants, who somehow manage to remember which books they have on their shelves even when a good portion of them are actually in piles on the floor. I rummage around through covers of sometimes faded lettering, and funky 70’s pinks… all on the elusive hunt- that book which the major sellers no longer stock or print. Or at least, can no longer be found in town. And there, my friends, is the rub…

For a book, being good and old often isn’t enough for you to get printed much. Even if you are printed, being good and old often isn’t enough to find yourself on a shiny bookstore shelf awaiting the ipod-toting masses. [Peace, friend, I too tote an iPod.] Now, you may be able to suggest that there are so many good books, that it’s impossible to keep them on the shelves at all- by sheer mass and volume issues. Ok, I’ll agree a bit here… but what I hate, is that I know I’m not into esoteric authors, and often, a book I’m looking for isn’t to be found anywhere in town! So often, that I’m wondering why in the world I even go to the bookstores, when there is Amazon. (Granted, with it’s own problems.) The most hilarious thing in the world to me is when the “fill-in-name”-bookstore attendant says: “Well, sir, it looks like we don’t carry that book, but we can order it for you.” I smile the smile I’m sure they’ve seen a hundred times that day- “No, that’s ok. Thank you.” Why the hell would I want them to order it for me, when I can get on average 10-30% off on Amazon and often with no shipping if I lump my orders together? (I can even get groceries at the same time.)

But, then, I’m reminded that Amazon, as well as allowing you to get groceries, also puts you in touch with a seriously large used-book marketplace. See, I told you a used-book store was near by! 😉 Personally, I like to hold and examine the used books I buy, so I tend to not use this option. I have had friends who have purchased books that I’d swear weren’t used and were in excellent condition.

What authors have I had a Dicken’s of a time finding of late? (sorry for the (oliver)Twist-ed pun) Why the musings? Lately it has been the great author and apologist, G.K. Chesterton. On my first search, I was on the hunt for The Everlasting Man. C.S. Lewis, another apologist, perhaps most important of his century, said this particular work baptised his intellect as George MacDonald baptised his imagination. He called it the best popular apologetic he knew. So, we can surely say the work influenced one of the greatest authors of the time. Can you find it at any local bookstore today? I bet you can’t- I certainly couldn’t. In fact, I couldn’t even find it in my local used bookstore haunt! So, I will have to get a new or used one from Amazon. Now, don’t go getting the idea that Chesterton only wrote about Christianity. Not at all. His Father Brown mysteries are fantastic stories. I did find one of them at one of the locally-owned bookstores, and snagged it. So far the stories have been very enjoyable, and I have another compilation of more of the Father Brown stories waiting for me in my bookcase that I snagged from the unusually-peaceful used-book-store attendant. [Seriously- he’s EXTREMELY PEACEFUL- it’s disconcerting… take Garrison Keillor and slow him down a notch or two… and perhaps lower his volume by half, and you can see what I mean…]

Speaking of mysteries, another very important mystery writer is very hard to find these days. Only a few of his books are available recently: Georges Simenon. An amazingly prolific writer, Simenon’s work includes nearly 200 novels, 150 novellas, and numerous other writings. The most memorable, perhaps is the great pipe-smoking superintendent of the Police Judicaire, Commissaire Maigret. Many of the Maigret stories are nice short mystery novels, which to me harken to Sherlock Holmes in length and enjoyment. Many times I enjoy the Maigret novels more than Holmes, perhaps because I’ve read too much of Holmes all in one sitting. I have to admit, the knowledge of pipe-smoking that Simenon has lends very well to his pipe-smoking character Maigret, who is almost never without his pipe. One memorable scene even has Maigret enjoying a much needed bowl of tobacco to help him think and relax while bed-ridden with a nasty cold during one investigation. His covers were up to his neck, while his wife was out on an errand; just the pipe sticking out. (Of course after being told he was not allowed to have a pipe that day.) When I can find the Maigret novels, and can afford them, I snag them up like they were candy. Hmm… maybe I shouldn’t be sharing this secret… on second thought- Maigret sucks horribly- you’ll do yourself an injustice if you buy any of ’em, so just pass them by, thank you very much…

Talk of Holmes brings us around to one of the most well-loved mystery writers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Here again, we find that a few of his books have at least up until very recently been extremely difficult to find in bookstores as well. In fact, Doyle’s Sherlock mysteries were outsold by a non-Holmes book in England: The White Company. The White Company is a truly heraldic tale. Taking us back to the days of knights and chivalry, it’s easy to see why young and old minds alike loved the tale of the White Company, headed by the great Sir Nigel (whose stories are available separately). The book was a great refreshing read after not finding much like it in popular writing. Reading the White Company gave me a very serious respect for Sir Doyle’s work. Wonderfully written, and much more descriptive than the short stories of Holmes that were published in The Strand. The White Company is definitely worth a read, even if you were unsure of Doyle after a long bout of reading Holmes.

Don’t be afraid to dig a bit to find those old books, perhaps even used books that are hard to find on the shelves of the mega-book stores these days. Very often, they’re superb but are in the public domain and don’t make a serious amount of money for the store. It’s harder for them to sell these just because they’re not being made into movies, or not very well known. I’m finding wonderful gold-nuggets in my digging, and just felt the need to share ’em with you. (Not to mention buying a book for $2 is a seriously fun experience.)

Added benefit: A good portion of these works may have been written with fountain pens!! 🙂 He he he.. (ok, I know, I’ve got a problem)… certainly the writers used fountain pens at one point, perhaps not to write their novels. Speaking of fountain pens- here’s a beauty that I snagged at Levengers for a steal- a Pelikan 400 tortoise I believe (some call it “Honey”). Beautiful white plastic accented with gold trim and a dual-tone irridium accented gold nib. Piston filler of course- has a fantastic ink capacity, and will surely last for a very long time. If you haven’t tried any Pelikans, I highly recommend them. Excellent writers, and the piston-fill system is wonderful to use. The picture below is from my huge Miquelrius notebook which is used for my research notes. Ink is Noodler’s Legal Lapis available through Pendemonium.

Pelikan 400

Oh- one last thought: The Harvest. Every year when this season comes around, I’m reminded of how wonderful fresh food straight from the farmers/orchards are. We have in my fridge at the moment, some fresh green beans, fresh super-sweet corn, a half-peck of Honey Crisp Apples, and a bunch of freshly picked ripe from the tree peaches. It’s amazing to me that too many of us have settled with store produce. It is certainly important to us, that’s a given, but to taste fresh fruits and vegetables- one wonders why in the world we eat anything else! When an apple or a peach makes you a bit weak in the knees (and you have no other serious medical conditions) you have to be thankful for the harvest-bounty. A friend of mine has shared his fresh oranges, grapefruit and tangerines from Florida in the past. I used to never really crave any of these things- that is until the day I tasted his family’s tree-ripened fruit. Oh man- I hate to say it, it’s a bit cliche- but as I bit down into a tangerine- I thought- hell, this should be “adult-only” it’s so damned good. When things calmed down a bit, I realized it was just good fruit! 🙂 When your oranges taste like orange-sherbet but juicier, you know you’ve got it good. So, my hat’s off to all the growers out there. I’m very thankful for harvest season- and I’m doing my best to enjoy it while it lasts!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful week, and I hope to be back soon with productivity oriented snippets to share. I’ve been swamped a bit, so the blog has taken a bit of a back-seat, my apologies!