I’ve always loved Random House’s Everyman’s Library, cloth bound hardbacks with cream colored pages, gold leaf case stamping, decorative endpapers, a red silk ribbon bookmark, learned introductions, and extensive chronological tables for each author’s life. In this fashion, I’ve taken Leo Tolstoy, Vladimir Nabokov, Somerset Maugham, Thomas Mann, among other great men, to bed with me. A man whose life is missing a plot does well reading them. Where literal illustrations are devastating to the imaginations Walden, Moby Dick, and perhaps even Alice in Wonderland deserve; where Chip Kiddian flashy design turns a book into a poster; and where shiny paperbacks — from the glossy trash at Walmart, to flimsy new releases granted every fresh MFA — have somewhat anticipated the disembodied medium of Kindle, Everyman’s Library’s austerity marks a forgotten past. Could this be mere obsolescent snobbery? Please. And so, you can imagine my dismay at the people of Harris County in Houston, Texas, for doing what they did to my dear Evelyn Waugh (who is a man by the way, lest you think I became a feminist). Here is a troubling thought: that the most sensitive and educated demographic of Harris County may have ejaculated on my book. Also, inside it smelled like dog. Don’t mess with Texas.
I guess it’s fitting that an Everyman’s Library book was from the library. Their motto “There’s A Branch Near You” summoned images of blacks being lynched, and the TB I took to stand for Tuberculosis. We hold our prejudices tight, like a permanent hug you give yourself in lieu of others. I purchased the book, delusional that it was new, online for $1.99 at Barnes & Noble, the middle-Man between myself and Better World Books of Mishawaka, Indiana, whose website I later ventured to gain some information regarding the condition of my book. They had 2 copies: one “Used-Good,” and one “Used-Acceptable,” the latter whose gross (perhaps misleading) euphemism manifested in the mail a week later, as demonstrated herein. The shipping was $6.99, in that weird inverse-value similar to how the amount of copper it takes to make a penny is worth exponentially more than the value it represents.
One wonders how a book from Texas wound up in Indiana, or why irrational nostalgia summoned it to California, or why this contributor is reviewing not the book, but its lowly condition. I don’t know what WITHDRAWN means, but I think it’s got something to do with being given up on, that the people of Harris County had found more contemporary novels to sneeze on. This used book felt sadder than most, not because of its humiliated commerce, nor its cultural rejection, but by its unabashed failure as a public library book. Even the socialists didn’t want it.
If a new book is a nubile virgin, a library book is a kind whore who has mastered her clients’ feelings. She’s opened herself up to the township, stayed with lonely men through the night, whispering made up stories in soft wet lies. “I knew her for an uncongenial stranger to whom I had bound myself indissolubly in a moment of folly,” confesses our narrator Charles Ryder, about his wife, in the Back Bay Books new paperback 2012 reprint edition of Brideshead Revisted (1945) I conceded to buying at a bookstore, the cashier smiling upon seeing my selection. She said that’s a great book, and I said great. Said it starts off slow but really gets going, I said cool. She talked about how his other books are really satirical and mean, and though brilliant, Waugh was probably a huge asshole. Is there a better kind of writer? We talked — or at this point, just her, as I fell into the movement of her lips and its pantomime of kissing — how this book in particular was like more sad, because he didn’t hide behind satire, the dialog of people he couldn’t stand. This was after daylight savings had just ended, and after work, at only 5:20 p.m. or so, it was already dark outside. Inside too. I held my breath in hopeful asphyxiation, smiled that dumb smile of men without a chance, and left her enthralled in Waugh’s spirit. Later that night, I fought my eyelids as pink curtains to the stage play of day, slowly nodding in and out as Charles Ryder himself. First person novels inherit the sensibilities of the reader, and my Charles felt tired and sad. He wanted something more than another novel to read, the sound of a page being flipped like a dry slurp. Soon he was asleep, his receipt slash bookmark sandwiched in the wrong place, somewhere far off in the unknown future. Maybe this was the key to life, to just start reading from there.