Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Camel Bookmobile

I don’t quite now how it happened, but I actually did send a box of books off to Kenya yesterday. The appeal hit me at just the right moment. It’s such a romantic and moving notion: books arriving by camel. And then, I’d just read Wizard of the Crow. Most of all, however, I was in the foulest mood possible: really, just barely civil. I wanted to break things, destroy things, spend money, overeat, wreak havoc. Somehow, my better angels led me to this entry onMaud’s blog. I found a way to spend $42 and put the brakes on my careening frustrations.

So, I went through my office. I love books and am a hoarder. What did I have that I could spare that was not utter junk? I have five copies of To the Lighthouse in my office (and more at home), but I couldn’t find one to part with. The same was true of all my Woolf books--this one is unmarked and valuable for being pristine; that one has my grandmother’s markings in it; the other was the first one I read and has naïve markings; and the final one has more recent notes and is essential for finding key passages fast. O.k., so I could let myself off the hook there: I’m a Woolf scholar and it’s o.k. to be a little batty with regards to that.

But why couldn’t I part with one of my two unread copies of The Thirty-Nine Steps? Or The Quiet American? Well, one copy of the Buchan is a reprint of the original and has a cool thirties roadster on the cover; the other has some sources and editorial material. The same kind of thing was true of Greene. And then, there are the dozens of rare African novels, literary journals, literary histories and political histories that I inherited from a retiring colleague. Could I, should I, part with them and send them to Kenya? I could not part with that treasure, either. In short, I began to fear that I would never find a book at all.

I ended up with thirteen to send--and it’s not such a bad list either: a couple English writing textbooks; two anthologies (including one of postcolonial literature); Much Ado About Nothing, The Oresteia and Beowulf; four great Dover Thrift editions (Mansfield, Joyce, Eliot, and Conan Doyle); and, to round out the baker’s dozen, The Color Purple and The Double Helix. Given all that I couldn’t part with, I was glad to send a box that, I hope, won’t look like the runt of the litter when it gets to its destination, some six or eight weeks from now. (I think it’s going by camel…)

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