Wednesday, 3 October 2007
Not a wild goose chase after all
(format for picture of books I shouldn't be buying shamelessly stolen from the wonderful DoveGreyReader)
I have an unhelpful habit (for both my finances and state of mind) of going on wild goose chases. I will get it into my head that a certain item (usually a book) can be found in a certain place (usually Norwich), and I won't be able to rest until, hours later, with blistered feet, in a foul temper, I can categorically state that it was not there, never had been there, never would be there, and I'd been had again.
Today was shaping up to be one of those. I was at work in the morning, and more than usually fed up with it, so when I finished at lunchtime I decided to walk through Marks and Spencer to grab a sandwich, and get on the bus to Norwich, to see if I could find As Meat Loves Salt in any of the numerous charity shops and secondhand bookshops there. I was fairly sure I wouldn't succeed; I never do on these excursions. I can't think why I bother with them.
Unless it's for days like these. Days when instead of cursing the grey skies, I reflect on how they emphasise the colours of a very English autumn. It isn't as heart-piercingly beautiful as a New England fall, but our softer washes of tans and rusts and mustards and burnt oranges are rather nice too. Days when in the first secondhand bookshop I go in, which is normally far too terrifyingly antiquarian (i.e. esoteric and expensive) for me, I find the two Mary Renaults pictured. I have had a complete set of the historical for quite some time; I now seem to be working through the contemporary ones. And despite appearances, I actually don't go in for first editions (which these are). Well, not intentionally, at any rate. Good Reading Copy is about my mark.
Also in here I found the book with the blue spine, whose title is practically illegible in person, and is highly unlikely to photograph well. It is A Means of Grace, by Edith Pargeter, published in 1956, which has been on my list for several years. It is the story of a young English singer, Emmy, returning to a Central European country she knew well before the War, to the family she loved and became a part of. Things have changed, however, and the country is now Communist. How Emmy tries to hold on to her old relationships, to ignore politics and see only common humanity, is the heart of the book. I read the library's copy some time ago and knew that I wanted to buy it, but have never found it before. The book's main 'message', which seems to be one I spend my life fighting to get through to people, is that there is no 'us' and 'them', that we are all just people. So many people seem to spend so much time looking for reasons to write others off, on grounds of ethnicity, mental illness, religion, sexuality, whatever, as long as it gives them an excuse to say that he or she is "one of them", not one of us, not fully human. I joke that I am the militant wing of liberalism, and I sometimes think I see my colleagues groan internally as I "go off on one" again, but I am not going to give up fighting this kind of attitude.
Returning to books, I almost went home after the first shop, stunned by such riches. I carried on, however, feeling that the day just had to continue well. The Kate O'Brien came from a shop I have never been in before (and will certainly visit again). I had been meaning to read more of her work since I discovered The Land of Spices (a nun-book quite as good as In This House of Brede). Perhaps I was pushing my luck, I thought. My feet were beginning to blister, the grey skies that had been cool and hinting rain in Yarmouth were muggy and strongly suggestive of thunder in Norwich, and I was regretting the wool jacket I had needed first thing. But there was just one more shop to go, and I could almost see As Meat Loves Salt sitting on a shelf inside it. I knew I wouldn't be able to rest until I had proved or disproved my vision, so I dragged my weary bones along St Giles to the very final shop.
I couldn't find it at first. I found the Armistead Maupin, another addition to the set of the Tales of the City that I am very slowly collecting (so slowly that I begin to wonder if I ought to aim at having each volume in a different edition on purpose, especially as for once I actually like the current paperback covers quite as much as any of the old ones). I thought this had to be it, that my luck had exhausted itself and my always tricksy second sight had failed me (useful strictly for shopping purposes, and then only in a very limited way. I can tell when I need to go in a shop, but I won't have a clue what I'm supposed to be looking for, and when I actually have something particular in mind it seems to deliberately mislead me, hence the wild goose chases). The I went round another corner, because like all good secondhand bookshops this one has multiple rooms and unexpected steps, although it is sadly lacking in ancient cats or smelly dogs. There I saw it. Trade paperback, which is fine. I was worried at first that it might be an uncorrected proof, which Norwich bookshops abound in (I have an unproven theory that this has to do with the famous MA in Creative Writing at UEA). But trade paperback is good, and £3.50 is even better.
I'll still keep looking for other copies, to hand out as seems appropriate. But I have my own. And a reason to keep going on wild goose chases, which is probably very bad for me.