Things stumbled upon

Goodbye to All That, by Robert Graves; Gargantua & Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais; A Selection by the Author, by W.H. Auden; and Resurrection and Childhood, Boyhood, & Youth, by Leo Tolstoy.

Goodbye to All That, by Robert Graves; Gargantua & Pantagruel, by François Rabelais; A Selection by the Author, by W.H. Auden; and Resurrection and Childhood, Boyhood, & Youth, by Leo Tolstoy.

Discovered these in a little bookshop by the waterfront. The sort of second-hand store that I didn’t think existed any more. You have to walk sideways down the book-stacked aisles. You can lift a tome off the shelf and find others piled behind it. Books behind books behind books. Some looked like they’d sat waiting years to be picked up. Others, you can imagine, had been passed down from hand to hand, generation to generation, stopping here only to pause for a dusty breath before resuming their Odyssean wanderings. There wasn’t a white page among them. On the inner jacket of Tolstoy’s Resurrection someone had simply inscribed, in neat longhand, “To Betty, From Gladys.” Suddenly the book itself took on a greater meaning and history. When we buy new books we give them history—they’ve only ever known the printing press and impersonal shop hands before us. With used books we inherit history; we are participants in an ongoing journey. These books are more than simply stories passed to us by an author; it’s something read, loved, kept, shared, relinquished, given up, thrown away or lost by another soul. I keep looking at Resurrection. Someone had gifted this to someone else; maybe a friend or a sister. Maybe they’d been close but had grown apart, or maybe they’d never grown strange with one another at all… there’s no way of knowing now. It’s all lost to time.

A sign on the shop door said the proprietor would have to give up his business soon due to ill health. He sat behind another stack of books at the far-end nook of the store. The place funnelled the closer you got to the cashier desk: the books became denser, the smell thicker, the shadows heavier. He took my finds with one hand (the other arm was limp), tallied them up, and I left happy, though oddly feeling as though I’d missed potential keepsakes back there among the piles. Later, at lunch, my fiancée and I entertained the fantasy of buying the shop and running it for ourselves, profit or no; then we reminded ourselves that we were students, both from working class families, and with a newborn baby to provide for. “It would be a sinking ship, but…” she said, and we let the dream trail off.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Things stumbled upon

  1. Adrian

    Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel was a great inspiration to inscrutable prog-rock band Gentle Giant. The Shulman brothers’ impoverished post-war Glasgow childhood required an escape of some imagination. Rabelais delivered- song lyrics, titles, even the name of the band are all highly influenced directly from his work which was quite literally, stumbled upon by Phil Shulman..

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