Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The W-word

I'd hate it like hell if they changed the location of the Itaewon book swap. I know...what does it matter where we meet if that's where the books are? But I can't help it; I've grown to love the feel of the word Wolfhound in my mouth: I'm going to the Wolfhound. I'll meet you at the Wolfhound. The book swap's at the Wolfhound. Will you be at the Wolfhound? You can find me at the...

Okay. You get the idea. For some reason, when I utter this word, I feel all daring and bold and expat-ish. I feel kind of 1920-ish, as if I've just grandly draped myself in one of Isadora's scarves (sans the bad outcome, of course). I want a cigarette, or at least one of those long holders. I want the dim light and the smoke and the liquid-filled glasses on the table to cast interesting shadows on my face, making me look jaded and wordly-wise, more like a female Humphrey Bogart and less like an American ajumma. After 3.5 years in Korea, I've finally found MY watering-hole. I realized that I was truly home during the last book swap on Sunday when I finally drank a Guinness and indulged a bit of drama, not necessarily in that order.

But enough of that. (Wolfhound! Wolfhound!) Onto the books. I brought 2 to swap: Truth And Beauty and Fall On Your Knees. Don't know if anyone grabbed them. The Anderson Cooper Guy did not disappoint; he showed up with a plastic shopping bag full of titles and he had a book in his back pocket! Whoo! If I wasn't always so damn concerned about my reputation, I would've crawled right across the table. The A.C. Guy had Playing The Moldavans At Tennis by Tony Hawks. I grabbed it because my Inner Completist Bookworm was going crazy, careening off of barstools and leaving puddles of beer with every half-turn -- Apparently, I already had a copy of Round Ireland With A Fridge back at home on the TBR mountain.

A young Canadian woman named Cara showed up with lots of tasty books that she spread onto the table like she was serving up the very best of banquets. When The Left Hand Of Darkness emerged from her carryall bag, I remembered the promise I made to my Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm to stop avoiding this book. After 27 years, I'm finally a proud owner of this Ursula K. LeGuin novel, and T&CIB is mollified, at least for the moment.

You should've seen the gusto with which Cara was sweeping new titles into her bag. There's nothing like expat bookworms. I'm under the impression that she lives in an ever smaller city than I do, and that her Bookstore and Library Situation is equally bleak.

Aaron found a few books to read, but with all the alcohol and drama and books and conversation swirling about simultaneously, my bookish observation skills were slightly askew. I remember Charlotte remarking about the heaviness of his backpack, though.

After a couple of hours at The Wolfhound, we found our feet at What The Book? Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, wolfhounds gotta...? I came away with four (used) books:

1. Larry's Party - Carol Shields. [I really want to read more Shields. Can hardly wait until Unless, her last novel, starts appearing over here. The cover is great -- an old-fashioned picture of a male baby.]

2. Beloved - Toni Morrison. [One for my Pulitzer Pile. Actually, I started this book back in '88. It was a library copy and I got sidetracked and wasn't able to get back to it by the due date.]

3. Clay - Suzanne Staubach. [A nonfiction book about the history of this substance.]

4. High Sierra - W.R. Burnett. [This paperback copy --published in 1950-- has a pulp cover to die for. The first page had that delightful style that perfectly melds literary and hardboiled, like some really good James M. Cain. Also, I'm a huge Humphrey Bogart fan (this is the second time I've mentioned him in one post!) and this was one of his best movies -- it helped him turn the corner cinematically and got him away from just playing heavies without any extra dimensions.]

With a heavy heart and an equally heavy carryall, I returned to Gumi the next day. Then Pulitzer Fever struck again that evening, and I found my fingertips at Amazon buying a used copy of The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer.

See? This is why I don't like to plan out my reading year too carefully. How could I have known all the wonderful and almost soap-opera-ish twists and turns that my bookworm life would take in these first few months of 2008? For example, how could I have predicted my hot-lit crush on Nick Hornby? (Hornby's birthday is April 17th! ...Happy Birthday, bloke...hope you get tons of book presents!!!) How could I have known that Pulitzer Fever, simmering in me since middle school, would finally wrassle me to the ground? And of course, there's The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread which is about to pop out in bookstores everywhere in just a few days! Regular people may think bookworm life is snoozeworthy, but when you live it from our side, it seems like anything but.


SFP said...

I've pre-ordered The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread because of you. I'm looking forward to it. :)

Sam said...

The history of clay? I'm amazed someone wrote a whole book about this...and that it might be interesting. I'll look forward to hearing about this one.

darkorpheus said...

This sounds like an interesting place. You mean you bring books down and exchange them? Really?

I don't think we have things like this over here.

Anonymous said...

I am so, so, so jealous of your book group. Please come to Dubai and help me start a Middle East chapter!

Bybee said...

I'm glad you're getting the book! Yay!

Sam Houston,
It looks cool. I read one page in the middle about people who have that compulsion to eat it, and the writing was so good, I was hooked. I'd already passed it up once last month and was worried about it getting away.

Dark Orpheus,
Yeah, we all meet at this totally excellent pub, the Wolfhound, gather at a large corner table and put what we want to swap on the table, or on the bookshelf close by. Then it's keep your eyes peeled and your reflexes sharp, because other 'worms grab up what they like with great velocity.

Do they need EFL teachers in Dubai? I heard the pay is better in that part of the world and the apartments are bigger and nicer.

Gentle Reader said...

I think everyone needs a watering hole to call their own, so they can feel like a glamorous ex-pat, even if they're living in their own home town! I'm going to check out The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, too :)

Dewey said...

Completely aside from that great book haul, you sound like you had such a great time! It's so nice to find a place where you can feel at home!