Please don’t mistake me for a rational human being. At least, not when it comes to books. If you’ve ever thought that someone using the term “bibliomane” for their blog must be exaggerating somewhat, well… let me explain.
Having spent the late afternoon trawling through charity shops, when my wife suggested dinner and a bit of shopping, I couldn’t resist. A half-hour’s drive later, via a sneaky route (when in doubt, I always opt for the sneaky route), we arrived at a near-ish shopping plaza. I mentioned self-medication before, and yes, watching the civilised Western world fall apart has been taking a toll on me, now that you mention it.
Dinner completed, we stopped in at the nearby Barnes & Noble, on pretext of looking for the most recent New Yorker (sold out, have to get the online copy). Nevertheless, there were a few other items of interest there. For a start, on a whim, I decided to see if I could find a copy of William Shirer’s classic work, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I don’t read a lot about the Second World War as a rule, my interest in history being somewhat more antique than that particular vintage, but I’d been reading the Kindle edition for a while before getting frustrated with keeping track of what was going on, and wanting to look back at earlier passages without having a physical copy. Do you want to be appalled by something? A new trade paperback 50th anniversary edition of that book sells for $30. Fortunately, I had some coupons to apply to it. Probably still should have picked up a second-hand copy.
Following that, two remainders rounded out my visit. I was unfamiliar with Albertus Seba (another symptom, no doubt, of inattentive or incomplete reading), the 18th century Dutch compiler of the Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, but it’s just the sort of book that I go for: I adore “classic” works of natural history. And finally, Paul Collins’s Duel with the Devil is another Kindle refugee: I’m hoping that I will be more attentive to the print version, as with the other, I regularly fell asleep.
Of course, the damage wasn’t done yet. There’s also a location of Half Price Books near to this little strip mall. If you don’t have one of these in your area, HPB is a Texas-based chain of second-hand shops which has somewhat filled the gap in the market, mostly in the Midwest, since the demise of Borders. Its existence violates one of my private rules, which states in part that nothing good has ever come out of Texas. This particular location is the smallest of the four in the greater metropolitan area, but I’ve often had some pleasant surprises shopping there. This evening was to be no exception.
I have a route that I usually follow in HPB locations. I start with the “Nostalgia” section, looking for interesting old hardcovers that might otherwise not be shelved with their proper subjects. The oldest book in my cache, The Victor Book of the Opera (1912) is not only an illustrated history of popular turn-of -the-century operas, but provides a comprehensive list of 78-RPM shellac discs from those various operas released by the old Victor Talking Machine Company. Granted, these early recordings (from the days before electrical amplification) are nowhere near the fidelity that one expects from modern recordings, but they are historically fascinating and are important pieces of music history. The book itself is remarkable, with gilt edging on top and its pages printed on glossy stock, this was clearly meant as an expensive title for an expensive hobby (remembering that the early records were priced between $1 – $3 on average, but that a dollar in 1913, for example, was the equivalent of $24.61 in 2017, and that the average record was 2 minutes to a side. And it sounded as though it had been shouted down a funnel… which, as a matter of fact, it had).
From the Nostalgia section, I usually swing through the CDs and LPs in case anything catches my fancy, before glancing at the other books on music, then heading into the Mystery novels. Since I’ve only really been on a Gladys Mitchell kick of late, nothing in the section caught my eye, so I moved on to classics, mythology, and untranslated literature. Nothing there, but the literature & fiction section held a couple of Oxford World’s Classics which I did not have, so those were added to my pile. Then I spotted a copy of Eric Lomax’s The Railway Man, which I have wanted to read for a while. While there were Penguin Classic editions of the novels of Balzac, only one was represented that I didn’t already have (a friend gave me the others years ago, and I don’t generally give up Penguins), that being The Chouans. I’ve only read one Balzac title, and he is on my long list of authors that I must get back to. Maybe this new book will be the push in the right direction that I have needed.
Finally, I took at look at Ancient History, and was pleased to score not only a copy of Barrett’s biography of Caligula, best known as one of the madder Roman Emperors, and David Potter’s biography of Constantine, one of the more cynically opportunistic Roman Emperors. I’ll be interested to read both of these, Barrett for a second time, and Potter to find out what the updated view of the victor at Milvian Bridge is, if it has been updated at all. The last finds were a Penguin copy of Josephus (since mine has gone walkabout), and a book by John Romer (whose Testament is still a highly watchable account of the growth of Christianity in the early Roman Empire) on the Egyptians, which I did not already have. Fortunately, nearly the whole of my HPB total was accounted for by a gift card, making this a very reasonable trip to the bookshops (honestly, I’ve had far worse).
Oh, and the irony of ironies? On getting home, a parcel was waiting for me had the last book of the day. Yet another title that I’ve never read, although I recently watched the film… All the President’s Men. So in one Friday, I added some twenty books to my library. And do you want to know the really mad thing? The next day, I went to yet another shop for more. But that adventure will have to wait until next time. However, in case you were wondering how I justified using the term “bibliomane,” well… now you know.