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In Search of a Complete Proust

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Do you own more than one copy of a certain title? Was it an accidental purchase - you didn’t realize you already had it in your collection - or did you pick the spare up because it was more special - newer, fancier, hard-bound - than your first copy?


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I’ve always been a Jane Austen fan, and Pride & Prejudice holds a special place in my heart. A few years ago for my birthday I was surprised to receive a beautiful red hard-bound copy with gilded edges and gold embossed print on the spine. Printed in my birth year, no less. It was gorgeous, and brand spanking new, by the look of it. The same day, I was doubly surprised to receive a lovely used copy of the same book, bound in green with marbled endpapers and a perfectly fitted box that held the book tidily inside. Suddenly I seemed to have a small but growing collection of Pride & Prejudice, and I didn’t mind at all!


I’ve never sat down and read either of those beautiful copies, preferring to use a beat up paperback version if I want to reread it. Having them on my shelf, however, is comforting in some odd way, like keeping love tokens around even after a relationship has ended.


More recently I seem to have entered into a different sort of affair. I’ve been on the lookout for a complete set of Marcel Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time). I’ve picked up a couple of battered paperback copies of the first installment, ‘Swann’s Way’, but never managed to find a complete set without shelling out for a brand new one. I was much more interested in a used edition – especially as most readers don’t admit to getting past the first section without superhuman effort.


In the library where I work we have been culling the collection, and every week I lug a box or two of fresh withdrawn books to the High School teacher’s room to be picked over and eventually carted down to the Middle School office in hopes that some of them will be taken by folks who can continue using them; this also cuts down on how much I have to eventually carry out to the recycling dumpster.


Early on in the effort, I brought a new batch up to the teacher’s room and noticed that the previous week’s box was gone entirely. An enterprising teacher had nicked it to be used as a doorstop down the hall, and also I suspect she hoped her students might be interested in some of the titles. Looking around the room, I spotted a random box on top of an old rundown fridge in the corner, and it looked like it might have books in it. Lifting it down from its perch I found that it was a box of withdrawn books from the previous school year’s rejects, neglected and un-recycled.


After a moment’s perusal I spotted the first volume in a two book edition of Proust’s masterpiece. Though I already possessed two paperback copies of mostly the same material, and was missing the second half, I was elated. Minutes later when discussing the contents of the box with my fellow librarians I was astonished to flip over an unidentified volume and find that it was the second book in the set. A matched hard-bound pair!


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For several years I’ve been looking out for a complete set of Proust. Finally it was discovered, withdrawn from the High School collection for the sin of not being checked out in a decade and not being a part of the current curriculum, only to sit in a hot stuffy school teacher’s room for an extra year, and finally to be discovered by accident by someone willing to take them home and dust them off and cherish them. The icing on the cake was the price: free.


Do you have a book collection? What is the best find you’ve had?

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