Category Archives: reading

Can’t remember the title of an obscure book? Ask a bookseller in Shaker Heights, Ohio

Books at Hein & Co. Bookstore

(Photograph: “Books at Hein & Co. Bookstore” by Sarah Stierch is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Sometimes all you can recall are a character’s name and the book’s genre, the decade when you read it, or maybe the basic plot or the setting. Especially when a book is out of print and hasn’t been digitized, the search for it can be frustrating.

Stump the Bookseller can help. It’s a fee-based online information exchange hosted by Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights, Ohio. What a cool place Harriett Logan’s used bookstore must be—home to a bindery and an art gallery.

In Loganberry’s free question-and-answer archives I found the title of a middle-grade novel I borrowed from a public library in the 1960s. For $150 I can buy Hilary’s Island on eBay now. I almost wish I didn’t know.

The one I have reread revisited most often: The Great Gatsby

THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald (OUP)Day 29: Aside from manuscripts, I don’t reread entire books. However, since reading The Great Gatsby when I was a high school junior I’ve seen two of four existing movie adaptations. Does that count? (Baz Luhrmann’s was the better of the two.) The first adaptation, a 1926 silent film, would make a total of five, but there are no surviving copies.

THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner)Contrary to popular opinion that the first design was the best, I think the most effective cover for the novel is the 1930 painting by Tamara de Lempicka, which is used for the Oxford World’s Classics paperback edition. My old copy is a red Scribner paperback. You can see some of the other variations in T: The New York Times Style Magazine.

Near the last page of the novel is this paragraph:

I spent my Saturday nights in New York because those gleaming, dazzling parties of his were with me so vividly that I could still hear the music and the laughter, faint and incessant, from his garden, and the cars going up and down his drive. One night I did hear a material car there, and saw its lights stop at his front steps. But I didn’t investigate. Probably it was some final guest who had been away at the ends of the earth and didn’t know that the party was over.

BookADay-The Borough Press

Bought at my fave independent bookshop: Poems: New and Collected, 1957—1997, by Wisława Szymborska

Day 28: My go-to bookshop for three decades was the Book Loft of German Village at 631 South Third Street in Columbus, Ohio. I’m sure it’s still filled to the high ceilings with remainders and new books. In the old shop, a room (32 of them) or sometimes a hallway or closet was devoted to every literary category. Browsing through the entire store was a little like being digested; it might take twelve hours. The bookseller transacted sales behind a tiny counter under the stairs, in a space the size of a tollbooth. I could find a beautiful monthly or weekly planner among the Book Loft’s selection, instead of scavenging all over town the way I do now.

Poems New and Collected 1958—1997 by Wisława SzymborskaWisława Szymborska‘s Poems: New and Collected, 1957-1997, translated by Stanisław Baránczak and Clare Cavanagh, likely was purchased from the Book Loft. The pretty first edition, published by Harcourt Brace, has a caramel-colored ribbon marker that matches the dust jacket and the binding. Do many new books, other than Bibles, have bound page markers today?

When it was published in the U.S., Frances Padorr Brent covered the book in the Boston Review:

In Szymborska’s work there is hesitancy and modesty—perhaps a matter of personality—an emphasis on the difficulty of telling the truth, to get it right, to thread one’s way through a maze of official half-truths. In post-war Poland, which had lost more than 6,000,000 people to the Germans, it was not permissible to speak directly about the 2,000,000 Jews who died at Auschwitz or the indifference of certain segments of Polish society. The encounter with communism, which the Polish critic Jan Kott calls the “serpent’s sting,” insinuated itself into Polish art, leaving behind a hole of silence, representing what was sometimes compromised, sometimes excised.

Readers of all ages find Szymborska’s poetry approachable. You can see one of the poems reproduced in the form of a printable notice to pin on a bulletin board.

BookADay-The Borough Press

Never finished it: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner


(Photograph courtesy of Stefania Bonacasa)

Day 25: I picked up Alan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner in the 1970s and then never read it. Books I’ve wanted to read but haven’t finished gnaw at me with the Zeigarnik effect, the influence of fretting about unfinished business, which causes whatever was interrupted to stay in long-term memory.

THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE RUNNER by Alan SillitoeLess plausible but more intriguing is the possibility of some mystical reason I should remain receptive to this particular book, because its description still appeals. I should have read it.

The story is about a teenage juvenile delinquent who is confined to a reform school in Essex, where he concentrates his energy on long-distance running. He’s offered an incentive for winning a race against the arch-rival school, but he intentionally loses instead, as a defiant demonstration of free will.

This passage is near the beginning of the book:

So as soon as I tell myself I’m the first man ever to be dropped into the world, and as soon as I take that first flying leap out into the frosty grass of an early morning when even birds haven’t the heart to whistle, I get to thinking, and that’s what I like. I go my rounds in a dream, turning at lane or footpath corners without knowing I’m turning, leaping brooks without knowing they’re there, and shouting good morning to the early cow-milker without seeing him. It’s a treat, being a long-distance runner, out in the world by yourself with not a soul to make you bad-tempered or tell you what to do or that there’s a shop to break and enter a bit back from the next street.

I’d never heard of the Angry Young Men, a tag for several celebrated dissenting writers of the 1950s, including Sillitoe. Every decade has its angry young men, after all. I’ve paid more attention to the angry young women writers of subsequent generations. The anger is exhausting.

Also surprising to me was the number of songs inspired by the book, including, in 1986, Iron Maiden’s “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner.” Of course, there’s a screen adaptation of the story as well, currently up on YouTube, possibly in violation of copyright, so I won’t link.

BookADay-The Borough Press

Hooked me in to reading: A Wrinkle in Time

A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L'EngleDay 24: Who can recall the first book that served as a gateway drug? I don’t, because surely it was a book that was read to me when I was a toddler. My memory’s not that good.

By age nine, I was making many solitary trips to the public library in search of all the juvenile reading material I could lug home. Around that time, one of my teachers read to our class in daily installments A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle’s science fantasy novel for children. The coincidence makes me think the book might have been a significant catalyst.

Madeleine L’Engle wrote more than fifty other books, a few of which I read as the years passed. It’s nice to know there are plenty to enjoy.

BookADay-The Borough Press

Made to read at school: No, no one made me

high school in the 1970s
Day 23: My initial interpretation of today’s prompt was “textbook,” as in “textbooks are made to read at school,” which goes to show the effect of a predisposition. I understand why the word “forced” would be too charged in the context of school. I get it. It’s just that I can’t recall objecting to any book I was given to read in class.

When Miss Stedman passed out our English textbooks in the first grade, I do remember thinking, “Oh, goody! We’ll be learning a foreign language.” Until then, I guess I’d never heard my native language referred to by name. What a big disappointment when I opened the book.

I will say that I derived no pleasure from learning algebra and never advanced to calculus in high school. I wasn’t crazy about chemistry, either. The dude in the plaid pants excelled at all of it. I was more interested in taking photographs.

Today, my friend Lynn Gaar and I watched this video of her son Taylor, who teaches fifth graders at a school in Boston. In it, he describes his strong sense of obligation to create in his students an “instinctive and practiced aversion for the wrong.” Remember the fifth grade? Hit replay in your mind and then watch his spoken word performance.

BookADay-The Borough Press

Out of print: Christmas Trees by Robert Frost

CHRISTMAS TREES by Robert FrostDay 22: Christmas Trees, Robert Frost’s letter-poem illustrated by Ted Rand and published in 2002 1990 by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers has been out of print for years, which is sad. It’s a beautiful book. You can buy a used copy for less than a dollar.

Certain children’s book publishers specialize in reissuing out-of-print titles. Among them:

Book Lust Rediscoveries, Nancy Pearl’s Amazon imprint

Lizzie Skurnick Books

Purple House Press

BookADay-The Borough Press

Summer read: Driving Over Lemons

to the beach

(Photograph courtesy of Caroline Gutman)

Day 21: Coincidentally, the subject of summer reading came up in the comments on another post this week, when Tam Francis mentioned a few foreign cuisine/foreign travel books, including The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais. Its movie trailer is appearing now.

DRIVING OVER LEMONS by Chris StewartA few weeks ago, I read Chris Stewart’s Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucía. Like Stewart’s memoir, Richard Gilbert’s new book, Shepherd, is about his sheep farming escapades.

Summer puts readers in the mood for novelty. Maybe the academic calendar impresses itself on our psyches, so that summer forever represents a brief time for exploration and reinvention, or just yielding to restlessness.

Summer reads let us try even the most foolhardy experiments vicariously and risk-free. Conversely, when we’re in flux and disoriented, they can reassure us like Sonny, the manager of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, when he says, “Everything will be alright in the end. So if it is not alright, then it is not yet the end.”

What are you reading this summer?

BookADay-The Borough Press