To chill out, to calm myself, get rid of the aches of the working day, I like to shop for books. Where I live, there is no book store. Only a newsagency with a back shelf full of over-priced new releases. When I need a buyer’s fix, I go to the St. Vincent de Paul and grab ratty, smelly paperbacks for a buck a piece. When I want new books, I go online.
Yesterday was a particularly tiring day. It was a public holiday here in town, and it was raining. So my video shop was hectic. For the most part, my customers understood that service can be slower when the rain-rush hits. But some people—you know them—decided that if the rain was going to get them down, it might as well get everyone else down, too. I argued, debated, bartered, and bent—all day long, to every need. This is scratched, that wasn’t late, you never said Sweeney Todd was a bloomin’ musical, what do you mean I can’t use my free coupon on a public holiday?
And at the very end of the day, I got full-on threatened by a guy on the phone who tried to convince me that his rented copy of I Am Legend destroyed his DVD player. Fix my problem, he demanded, or expect a visit from a “very nasty customer”.
Some days, you know, you remember how quiet unemployment was.
So, I came home, de-uniformed, and shopped for books. Is there any pursuit more calming than browsing bookshelves? Even if they are virtual? Keep your baths and massage oils—for me, ultimate relaxation comes in the knowledge that Amazon US ships fast. I picked three books last night, mostly because my shoulders un-tensed just that little bit when I saw their front images.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
by David Wroblewski
June 2008, 566 pages, $25.95
This struck me with its serenity: the boy and his dog wandering the farm. It beings to mind The Yearling or Sounder. Reading the synopsis, though, the picture takes on new meaning. There’s an urgency about it, suddenly, that the boy and his dog are heading to that barn with greater intent than simply to pass the time. Or perhaps they’re unaware of what awaits them? At any rate, the barn’s got me hooked.
by Debra Winger
Simon & Schuster
June 2008, 224 pages, $23.00
Debra Winger makes me think of strength. There’s something about her, probably tied to her movie, Searching for Debra Winger, that stirs in me feelings of empowerment and longevity. Winger may not have conquered Hollywood, but nor did she need to. This is her memoir, and its Autumn-coloured cover is the perfect antidote to my rainy, Winter blues. The image is really something—the actress standing on the other side of what appears to be a closed door. It’s a feminine, natural recreation, perhaps, of the “road less travelled” concept. There was one way, but Debra chose another, and there were colours there.
Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization
by Nicholson Baker
Simon & Schuster
March 2008, 566 pages, $30.00
Normally, a history of the Second World War would not be on my Winter reading list. But there’s just something about that cover. Its floating, dying hand gives the impression of reaching and grabbing. Maybe guiding? And you just can’t help but go where it leads. It wasn’t just the cover that had me, though—Colm Toibin’s review, as posted on the Barnes and Noble site (where I do much of my browsing), convinced me, too:
It is possible that Human Smoke will infuriate those who believe that Churchill was a hero and that war, in all its viciousness, is often the only way to defeat those who declare or threaten war. Human Smoke will not be admired by those who argue that methods used to win a war may seem, especially to novelists writing more than 60 years later, impossible to justify. Nonetheless, the issues Baker wishes to raise, and the stark system he has used to dramatize his point, make his book a serious and conscientious contribution to the debate about pacifism. He has produced an eloquent and passionate assault on the idea that the deliberate targeting of civilians can ever be justified.
Maybe it’s a hand raised in surrender?