Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New old books

There are two kinds of people in this world (besides those who divide the world into two parts and those who don't): book borrowers and book buyers. I am a book borrower. People who have seen my book collection may take issue with this statement, but I tend not to acquire that many books permanently. At least, not as many as I could, given my literary appetite and my inability to resist pretty cover art. It's partially a financial thing--why buy the milk when I can have the cow for three weeks for free?--and partially the fact that I'm picky about what books I claim as my own. I don't want to buy something, read it, decide it's mediocre, and have it sitting on my shelf for all eternity, (She's Come Undone, I'm looking at you).*

But yesterday, armed with a gift card that I don't quite remember receiving, I marched into Borders and came out with two paperbacks that I am happy to add to my permanent collection.

I suspect that Julie Powell's Julie and Julia is going to be my favorite book of 2006 (well, except for Middlemarch, but that's kind of an unfair comparison, it seems to me). I picked it up this past spring as some light reading, and it's been haunting me ever since. Just before her 30th birthday and feeling slightly miserable, Julie Powell decided on a whim to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, and to keep a blog about her experiences; J&J is the result of that project. After I finished the book, I found myself looking for more good food writing. But upon further thought, I've decided that it's not the food that charmed me (there's an entire chapter on aspic, or objects encased in savory jell-o); it's Julie herself. She's hilarious and neurotic--and not always in a charming way--and slightly unhinged in a way that doesn't often come out in the whole-wheat, whole-foods world of food writing. When she just can't hack Julia and her marrow-sauce-making ways, Julie watches The West Wing and eats Domino's pizza with bacon and jalapenos instead. In short, she's someone I would probably hang out with. I realized recently that instead of searching the library for something to fill the void, maybe I should just suck it up and buy a copy, and re-read it to my heart's content. So I did. Yesterday, I found myself reading at red lights on the way home from the bookstore, and I realized that I haven't done that in awhile--since the first time I read J&J, I think. That's a good sign. It's nice to have her back.

Also, in a satisfying instance of writerly worlds colliding, I turned my copy over to read the back-cover blurb (this is what publishing geeks do), and found an endorsement by Lauren Winner, the author of my favorite book from last year. It seems that Winner--a Christian, a writer, and sometimes a Christian writer--reviewed J&J for the Washington Post and loved it just as much as I did. I must be moving in a small literary circle, but at least everyone I read gets along, I guess.

I also bought a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, which I haven't read since the ninth grade, but it was the first school book I ever stayed up late to finish. There's also the persistent rumor that it was partially or wholly ghostwritten by Truman Capote--since, clearly, a woman in 1950s couldn't possibly have written a single outstanding novel and nothing else. So I'm partly reading as a little sign of solidarity with Harper Lee, linking elbows with her against the second-guessers (also, I ask: Did Truman Capote have the kind of heart that came up with To Kill A Mockingbird?). Bonus for me, it's a really pretty copy, one that will probably look dated in fifteen years, but for now it's just kind of iconic and artsy, with rough-cut pages. I love it.

Mmmm, new old books.

*I make an exception for classics, which I acquire with abandon, usually in used paperback editions that find their final home with me. I figure that if people are still reading them, they can't be total dreck, right?


Christine O said...

I think I have that same version of To Kill a Mockingbird. I read the book for the first time a few years back. I knew, without a doubt, that it was the best novel ever.

Liz said...

It's this weird seafoam green and rust, with black accents, and there's a tree on it. I can't decide whether it's modern and gorgeous, or just ugly. But even if it's ugly, it's still...striking, I guess.

I have a feeling that it's going to the top of my "favorites" list, and put all others to shame.

Sarita said...

Now see, this is a way in which we are not carbon copies of each other. I am a book BUYER. And it's true, they do sit on your shelf forever. But there are certain books (albeit a LOT of certain books) I just can't part with. I am a hoarder.
I haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird since high school. Hmm. I should reread it.
Yay for new blogs!

Liz said...

I actually do own quite a few books--I just got a new bookshelf, actually, because I had about 30 books sitting on the floor of my living room, with no place to go. But I don't own nearly as many as I actually read. I have a fear of being stuck with bad books (and I realize you can sell them back, but I tend not to).

So I buy books that I've already read and know I need to own.

Heather said...

I'm a book buyer, mostly b/c I take such an annoyingly long time to read books I buy or borrow, then I feel bad about keeping someone's book so long, but resentful that I have to read it to give it back, etc. But, I'm very picky about what I read/buy, hence my extreme conservatism about what I read. J&J does sound good, though.

The only thing I actually remember about To Kill a Mockingbird is the ladies like tea-cakes, with their layers of powder and sweat. I should read it again.

Liz said...

It's true that I sometimes end up with library fines because I take too long. I used to be a fast reader, but the Oakland Library's three-week check-out period is just a tiny bit too short. So I think, "Oh, I'll finish it soon," and end up keeping it longer than I should. So I guess it IS good to buy, but only if you have a pretty good idea that it's going to be good.

Alison said...

You're welcome for the gift card. I can't believe that you don't remember getting it from me! It was a you-rock-as-my-maid-of-honor gift card. Anyways, I agree with you about going to the library to get books instead of buying them. I love having bookshelves full of books (even not-so-good books) I just can't handle buying a book when I know I can rent it for free. That is why gift cards rock because then I don't have to feel guilty about buying the book that, let's face it, I would really rather own because it will be new and pretty and uncreased and have no annoying time limit. Mmmm. . .new books.

Liz said...

Oh! You're right! Maybe. I actually have a couple of Borders gift cards, and yours is one of them, but where did the rest come from? I think one is from some Lonely Planet books I bought for my vacation this spring, and then promptly forgot to pack along. This might have been that one. But you're right.

Anonymous said...

I sit between two large oak bookcases as I write this. They both call out to me to renew my affair with the tomes they contain. Henry Gregor Felsen speaks to me from 1962 and his words still amaze me. Street Rod, Hot Rod and Crash Club are the colors of my life, as real today as when I was a teenager. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all time favorites...who can forget Boo.
Al's Dad

Liz said...

Re-reading old books is always so comforting and so risky at the same time. There are some books that I read over and over, because once I start I can't stop, and those are the ones that I know by heart, that are like a blanket and some chicken soup. But I'm always afraid that when I pick up something from my childhood, I won't like it anymore--I've been thinking about re-reading the Anne of Green Gables series, which I read a thousand times as a kid, but what if they don't live up? I loved them SO much. It can be fun to go on a re-reading binge, though.