I spent a long time this past weekend browsing in my favorite used bookstore. I had a free afternoon on Saturday with nothing else to do, so I had a nice, long, leisurely look at their shelves. If you stop by here regularly you will know what kinds of books I am drawn to. Here is an indication of what local bookstores have. As much as I like Barnes & Noble, I often have a hard time finding a book I know I want to read and keep. Unless it is a new book that has just been released I tend not to take a wishlist into the store with me as they are unlikely to have it. I really didn't think the books I jot down are so 'off the beaten path', but B&N has mostly straightforward, mainstream commercial fiction. That is not the case with my indie used bookstore. I have a hard time leaving with a small but select pile.
Needless to say I had no problem finding more than a few 'new' books to take home with me. They have this row of bookshelves at the back of the store that is all mass market books, which I often take the longest time looking at. Often mass market means, literally mass produced books that are popular bestsellers which I may or may not be all that interested in. However, this indie bookstore buys and sells mostly literary fiction and nonfiction. I love their vintage mass market books as I can find authors who have since original publication been reissued as NYRBs or Viragos or other favorite imprints of mine. And I usually find a book or two that is entirely new to me but has the whiff of forgotten classic about it. So, here is what I came home with.
The Dear Green Place by Archie Hind -- "Glasgow, 'the dear green place', is the setting for Archie Hind's acclaimed novel. Mat Craig is a young Glaswegian working-class hero and would-be novelist, whose desire to define himself as an artist creates social and family tensions. Set in 1960s Glasgow, The Dear Green Place is an absorbing and moving story, the whole book is invested with strong and sombre descriptions of the city around Mat."
Maigret's First Case by Georges Simenon -- "A musician walking home along the Rue Chaptal in the early hours of the morning sees a panic-stricken woman call for help from an upstairs window; moments later he hears a gun shot. He tries to go to her assistance, pushing past the man who opens the door upon his frantic knocking, but he finds himself roughly ejected from the premises. Undeterred, he heads for the nearest police station and urges Maigret to return with him and find out what has taken place. With this look into the man he once was and how he became the insightful inspector we have some to know, Simenon offers new insights into the brilliance of Maigret."
Maigret and the Loner by Georges Simenon -- "In a squalid room of an abandoned house in the oldest section of Paris, Maigret finds an impeccably groomed corpse dressed in rags. The inspector's quest for the identity of the mysterious victim leads to an abandoned wife and child, an anonymous telephone call, and a suspect brought back in handcuffs to Paris from a respectable seaside villa to face a tragedy buried twenty years in the past.
My Friend Says its Bulletproof by Penelope Mortimer -- This copy is from 1967 and this is the (somewhat salacious) blurb: "Behind attractive, sophisticated Muriel Rowbridge lay a love affair whose wounds still throbbed within her, and a medical operation that left its scars on both her body and mind. She had fled that past to come from England to America to try to become a new person to live that life. But now in this luxurious hotel room, in the arms of a man who was almost a stranger yet whom she felt she knew all too well, she felt all the old emotions returning, with all their heady ecstasy, their pain, their danger . . . " (Also published as a Virago, and Persephone has also reissued her work--she is someone I have read and admire!).
To Begin Again: Stories and Memoirs, 1908-1929 by MFK Fisher -- I fear I might already own this, or maybe not. I have a few of her books on hand and have loved her writing in the past. I am thinking that when I finish reading Emma Beddington, I will move on to MFK Fisher. "The first volume of reminiscences by one of America's best-loved writers. "Vintage Fisher. . . . (Her diaries and stories) bathe her youth and beauty in a golden light like the stuff of Gustave Dore engravings, the light of a better place and a better time when people were still made out of heroics."--Washington Post Book World."
The Aristocrat by Ernst Weiss -- This reminded me of Stefan Zweig, so I had to have it. "The time: the summer of 1913. The place: House Onderkuhle, an exclusive boarding school for the sons of the aristocracy in eastern Belgium. The old order may be crumbling but at Onderkuhle training for a life of command goes unchallenged. The most important lessons: fencing, riding and, above all, the forms of etiquette - 'the refinements of aristocratic intercourse.' Boetius von Orlamunde distinguishes himself at all of these. He subdues his doubts by undertaking ever more extreme physical tests, climaxing in the breaking-in of the stallion Cyrus. On the night the school burns down, Boetius displays cowardice and forfeits nobility. Immediately recognised as a masterpiece on its first publication in 1928, The Aristocrat dissects the collapse of a world of rigid hierarchy and exposes the murderous perversity of those who persist in living by the old rules."
The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt "It is the summer of 1940, and Lisbon, Portugal, is the only neutral port left in Europe-a city filled with spies, crowned heads, and refugees of every nationality, tipping back absinthe to while away the time until their escape. Awaiting safe passage to New York on the SS Manhattan, two couples meet: Pete and Julia Winters, expatriate Americans fleeing their sedate life in Paris; and Edward and Iris Freleng, sophisticated, independently wealthy, bohemian, and beset by the social and sexual anxieties of their class. As Portugal's neutrality, and the world's future, hang in the balance, the hidden threads in the lives of these four characters-Julia's status as a Jew, Pete and Edward's improbable affair, Iris's increasingly desperate efforts to save her tenuous marriage-begin to come loose."
I love these vintage Penguins and know there are people who collect them. If I thought I would have a chance of finding lots of them locally I might start collecting them, too, but I will just content myself with picking the odd one up here and there! I have always wondered about the British currency rate--what does (or rather how much is) 2'6 mean, anyway? I am feeling a little Simenon binge coming on by the way and have ordered a few titles that sounded appealing. Until they come in I am starting with Maigret and the Loner, which seems to be out of print (Penguin is reissuing them now, and of course I want all of them with their snazzy new covers).
I'm such a sucker for books. There was a time when I would not have contemplated buying used books, but now it seem they are almost what I most prefer.