Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Book Lover’s Open Sesame

About half of my recent haul   

I just received a shipment of five hundred books from America to Taiwan. This is an exciting event, giving that child-in-the-candy-store feeling that I want to read this one first, no this one, no this one.

A. Edward Newton wrote about the difficulties of sneaking new books into the home, past his suspicious wife. A favorite trick was to add them to the stack on his nightstand, as though he had just taken them from the shelves, and then later redistribute them.

Usually one just acquires a few books at a time, or perhaps an arm- or box-load, but an influx on this scale changes all the rules. This many books required the purchase of new bookshelves, in turn necessitating the rearrangement of my entire apartment.

If you mix new with existing books, the new ones tend to disappear into the background, and you lose the monolithic quality of your new acquisition. On the other hand, sequestering the new books requires a double organization system, and as you read them you constantly have to reorganize the shelves.
For some reason I always mix up these titles. And yes, those are the Shaker Heights, Ohio Shakers.
A few titles caught my eye as I was unpacking them. Court Satires of the Restoration sounds right up my alley, and will go nicely with the Complete Works of William Congreve and of Thomas Shadwell. I have never read a novel by John Masefield, so I am looking forward to his Jim Davis.

To me, the great humorists (let me know whom I have forgotten) are Benchley, Nash, Wodehouse, Perelman and Patrick McManus. The latter is my perhaps my favorite living writer; I dote on his essays, and now I can try out his regular novel, The Double Jack Murders.
Two interesting titles for an oboist and a Clevelander 
Since I bought most of these sight-unseen, a couple turned out to be other than I thought. I am a sucker for any books on pomology or fruit-growing, and I thought that Apples I have Eaten would be filled with Bunyard-like commentary. What I received was a small volume of unaccompanied photos, only the miniscule introduction assuring us, “They were really tasty.”

Winifred Carter’s Dr. Johnson’s ‘Dear Mistress’ turned out to be a historical novel set in the Eighteenth century. Unfortunately, Carter’s style owes more to Elinor Glyn than it does to Dr. Johnson. Here is a sample of her immortal prose:

            Mrs. Salusbury’s voice was almost shrill and her old eyes flashed fire. “I know you want it to squander on the trollop from Drury Lane. Neither shall you have any more of my fine things for such a purpose.”
            John Salusbury frowned impatiently. “Really, Mama, I don’t lie. If I wanted money for the divine Kitty Clive I should say so.”

The whole Johnsonian crowd is here—Boswell, Garrick, Reynolds. She must have done her homework, because not only is Mrs. Thrale present, but Mr. Thrale also. Oh, well.

A pleasant surprise was Art Buchwald’s I’ll Always Have Paris. I was expecting just a light read, but the jacket avers these are memoirs of “the dazzling Paris of the late 1940’s and the 1950’s.” I have often read about the mythic Paris of the 1920’s, and so am looking forward to extending my Parisian timetable.

Five hundred is a lot of books, but they will have to suffice for a while. Although I have been accumulating these for two years, and worked hard to ship them, I am now experiencing that delightful Ali Baba moment of wonderful treasures suddenly revealed.


  1. Hello PGT, Not necessarily so. I am putting the books to their original use, but the designer you featured had the imagination to see them in a new way. Also, what a great upholstery idea for a library!

  2. One of my great pleasures is sorting and rearranging the books in my own collection. On at least two occassions I've been excited to buy a new book and upon arriving home, have discovered I already own it!

  3. Hello Mark, Only two occasions? Your memory must be sharper than mine. Your comment reminds me of the Ogden Nash poem in which he buys the same mystery story multiple times because they keep republishing it under different titles.

  4. 500 books = an amazing amount of reading to get through, organise logically and store. I only buy a few books at a time, and even then the boys (my sons) had to marry early so I could take their bedrooms as libraries.

    Now towards the end of my career in university education I have the opposite problem. Sotheby's and the other auction houses only want art books if they fit certain criteria. Ebay cannot handle 1000 expensive, specialist texts. Giving them away as presents will only offload 10 a year.

    Have you planned for the future, regarding your books?

    1. Hello Hels, 500 books is really not that many when you consider that I do not have access to an English library here, and that I read several books per week. Also, some are more reference-type than reading-type. I am also lucky to have extra bedrooms, which I can line with books.

      Most of the books I bring here are not too valuable, but I see your point, especially for the books and other objects I have in Cleveland. I suppose that distributing these things will become a retirement occupation.

      The issue you bring up is a crucial one. The thought of beloved books and objects hauled to the dump or sold for a pittance is certainly a distressing one.


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