Sunday, February 20, 2005

Carpe Libri!

I finally procured a copy of A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson, and, as my mother would say, I'm as happy as if I had good sense!

I've had a jones for this book since before Christmas. Sometime around the new year, I went to the bookstore, and a copy was there! I curled my hands around it possessively. Up to this point, every other Bill Bryson book had been on display, but this one had eluded me.

"Look!" I said happily to Shanghai, who was along on this particular pilgrimmage.

"Don't buy that," said Shanghai. "I have a copy."

"Okay." I put the book down.

Over the next few hours, Shanghai revealed, to my dismay, that she had a copy of AWITW, but not at her apartment. (I had wondered how I had been so blind to miss it, in all those hours of worshipping at her book-lined shelves.) The book was out on loan. Where? Sigh, what does it matter? When would she get it back? Another sigh. I'm very bad myself about returning books I've borrowed, so I knew the score.

The next week, I was back at the bookstore, alone and determined to make the purchase. I went over to nonfiction, where I was once again taunted by the sight of every damn Bill Bryson book except A Walk In The Woods. Crap! Someone had snatched up the only copy. I couldn't blame him or her, I told myself between swears and through gritted teeth.

I looked at the other Bryson offerings, and they began well, and seemed really humorous, especially Notes From A Small Island, his book about England, where he lived for 20 years. So why didn't I just get that book as a consolation prize?

I'd like to think that I understand the inner workings of my mind, especially the "book section" of my brain, but even I'm amazed at how it was all working right then:

Yes, I wanted Bryson's England book. Yes, I saw myself buying the book, reading the book, enjoying the book. But not first! The first Bryson book I wanted to get was A Walk In The Woods, and that was going to be the first Bryson book I bought even if I had to wait a year for the bookstore to have another copy! Nothing else would do. It had to be in this order, or not at all.

I've noticed that I'm doing the same thing with the Bronte canon: I do want to read all of Charlotte's and Anne's works, but I want to begin with Villette, and even though I plan to read The Professor and Shirley and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey, if I saw all those and not Villette, I'd pass 'em all up.

Why am I suddenly being so picky, so rigid? Is it middle age, putting a whipping on me? Or have I always been like this, and I'm just becoming aware of it gradually, as one becomes aware of darkness gradually insinuating itself into a room?

It's not a good way to be, because this insistence on buying in order of reading preference is gonna come up and bite me on the ass. For example, now that I have AWITW, I'll soon be ready for Notes From A Small Island. I'll go sashaying into the bookstore one fine Saturday, and guess what? It won't be there, and I'll be eating my heart out, thinking of allllllll those weeks when it mocked me from its perch on the shelf! Same thing with my Bronte situation. I need to grab when the grabbing's good. Carpe Libri.

For now, I'm happy and enjoying A Walk In The Woods as much as I thought I would. Some of my biggest laughs have come from reading about Katz, Bryson's out-of-shape traveling companion. The laughing is tinged with uneasiness because I can't help but remember that Shanghai read the book before I did, and certainly before we hiked up* the local mountain back in early December.

*"Hiked up" is a bit of a misnomer. Because of my decision to hike in Birkenstocks (not enough traction), my lack of stamina, and my subsequent ill-temper due to embarrassment, we didn't even make it halfway to the halfway point. I'm almost sure that Shanghai couldn't help but think of Katz.

1 comment:

Chuck said...

Just stumbled onto your blog. Very nicely done and a good reflection of my households love for all things printed. If you lived in southwest Washington, you'd fit in well.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Bryson very briefly at a booksigning. I stood in line for over an hour to get his autograph on a copy of A Short History of . . . (not one of his better works). It was for my ex-wife who was out-of-town for the weekend. She introduced me to Bill Bryson, so it seemed a fair repayment.

He's a very gentle soul with great, oversized spectacles. When it was my turn, I explained that this was for my ex-wife who had given me a copy of Walk in the Woods years before. He looked up at me over those big glasses and said "Why, I don't believe I've ever signed a book for an ex-spouse before. That's very nice of you." He signed the book and we shook hands. Very nice man. Very approachable. Would be fun to have over for coffee or a glass of wine.