Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Biblio-loneliness

I am far away from Seattle at the moment: Palm Springs, CA to be specific. And while the Pacific Northwest is bracing for snow showers followed by rain, the Coachella Valley's forecast is for clear skies, sun, and daytime highs in the 70s.  And still, I feel a bit homesick.  This has little to do with the great people surrounding me at the moment, and everything to do with the fact that there is no bookstore within easy reach.

I have plenty of reading material, or at least enough to get me through my stay--three volumes of the great Sean O'Faolain's short stories, which include some of my favorite stories ever, "Midsummer Night's Madness" and "The Heat of the Sun."  But there is something about the confines of a bookstore that brings me solace when I am away from home.  Seattle is blessed with a preponderance of bookshops. I could recount hundreds, if not thousands, of times I sought comfort in their walls from some travail of life.  Searching for, if not always finding, a book that would console whatever was troubling me at the moment--the ever thrilling promise of new discovery. And if not something new, then maybe revisiting an old favorite, even if I could find it on my own bookshelf at home.  Somehow, reading such a passage in public, in the open, made it feel more vibrant, more immediate.

My heart leaps whenever I read Virginia Woolf's climactic passage from To The Lighthouse, where James lands the boat, and his father says triumphantly: "Well Done!'" Or, in Persuasion, the letter Captain Wentworth sends Anne, love rarely rendered more passionately:

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and  resentful I have been, but never inconstant.

Five years ago, I was in Clermont-Ferrand, France to attend its Festival of short films.  It was cold, snow piled into grey slushy drifts throughout the city, the sidewalks barely passable.  But across from the main film venue was a bookstore.  It didn't matter that nearly every volume in the store was in French (there was a small English language section), I spent most of the time between screenings there, trying to stay warm, and exploring the strange, almost otherworldly, books. I don't speak French, but I got a kick out of picking up a copy of Mark Twain or Don DeLillo, and seeing that it was translated from "Americain."  Not English, American.  Or French translations of H.P. Lovecraft's work, wherein the author bio on back begins, "Reclus, malade, misanthrope et √©minemment mat√©rialiste," which translates to "Recluse, invalid, misanthrope, and imminent materialist." Only in France would such a description sell books.

Last year in Palm Springs, there was a small bookshop that specialized in Latino-themed books, t-shirts, and souvenirs, but also had an eclectic, yet very interesting selection of English titles, both new and used.  Isabel Allende shared shelf space with Irvine Welsh ... I mean literally, the same shelf.  James Joyce, Mervyn Peake, and John Grisham were sandwiched in-between.

It has since relocated, to where I don't know.  The only books I've found are at the grocery store next to the magazines, mostly mystery series and romances, neither are quite my cup of tea. In another week, I'll be back in Seattle, where I can just march down the stairs from my desk and be comforted by thousands of books, if I so desire.  But till then, my biblio-loneliness persists.
-Dan, Events

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