Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The History of a Book

I started "The Man Within" by Graham Greene late yesterday afternoon, and finished it in the middle of this morning. It's a fine, full sketch of a man who believes himself to be cowardly, but a thin story.

Sometimes you're fortunate to find a book that contains not only the story the author has intended (whether he or she has succeeded is entirely up to the reader), but a history that tells its own story, even with the names and personalities of those who read this particular copy left out. That's the case with this copy of "The Man Within", which came from the Angelo M. Iacoboni Library in Lakewood.

The novel was first published in 1929, and under that piece of information on a page before the start, it says "Reissued by the Viking Press in April 1947." So this copy I hold might have been from 1947. And yet, the due dates stamped on the page after the cover go from June 17, 1969 to November 12, 1987. So the book might very well have come into the possession of this particular library in 1969.

There is one trend for older books that I like. It's the text itself being carefully removed from its original covers and placed within what seem to be reinforced cardboard covers of an aqua-like color, with "The Man Within --- Greene" (the dashes and Greene are under the title, which starts at the top with "The" and then moves down a level for "Man", and then again for "Within." Thus:


The color of these covers are the same as the copy of "Subways are for Sleeping" that resides at the Hawthorne branch. The copy I bought from the Norwalk branch has grassy green covers. I like some books being presented this way because there's nothing to be assumed or considered from the covers. It's as plain as can be. The real importance lies with the words to be consumed by the reader.

Now, it's possible that this book had seen times earlier than June 17, 1969. Perhaps the pocket glued onto the inside front cover was for due date cards, which perhaps were no longer used at this branch by 1969. On the last page, a few inches down from "THE END", there's a date written in pen, "1956." But it seems to me that the pen marking would have faded considerably since then. It looks to be about maybe a decade old or just a tad more.

Under that marking is a blue stamping that says "REBOUND SEP 10 1968." A repair for this book. Maybe that's when these covers were placed against these 316 pages. Sturdier, and the previous covers had probably already begun to fall apart from so much use. I hope there was so much use. It is Graham Greene after all, even in this light, minor beginning which led to many masterpieces.

I wonder about the many people before me who checked out this book. Who was "JUN 27 1973"? Was "JAN 12 1977" as avid a reader as I am? Had "JAN 10 1981" checked out this book to read for a book club? Was "FEB 28 1986" in his or her teens, and had found a few novels by Graham Greene on their grandparents' bookshelves? Were they so taken by those later works that they wanted to see what he had done in his early writing life?

There was even relatively recent history in this book. I got to page 259 and found a square of paper, facedown on the page. It was a receipt from the automated checkout machines you use to check out books yourself. It had come from someone who likely reads one book at a time, because this was the only book they had checked out on their card. I like this person, because they give their full attention to one book, but I could never do that. I need lots of books every single day. After I'd had that nasty bout of anxiety last year, Mom thought I might also have been overwhelmed by the number of books I checked out, and said that I should only check out three books a week. That worked out well enough in recovery, but as I reprioritized my life, as I lost lots of weight, I realized that my great love in life is books. And I was not going to live on only three books a week. The stacks are here, as they were when I was that much heavier person, but I love them so. I love all the possibilities they contain, and I know that if I become bored by one book (Such as it was with "A Cup of Friendship" by Deborah Rodriguez which, despite the novelty of the center of it being a coffee shop in Kabul, the prose was too plain for me to want to proceed. I skimmed a few random pages, found it remained that way through the rest of the book, and gave up. The former me would have slogged his way through that book. But if a book has me bored now, why should I suffer?), there's always another possibility waiting.

The person who had checked out "The Man Within" had done so on February 7, 2009, with the due date on February 28. Two years ago. I wonder what that person thought of this book. I wonder if, like me, they decided to read through all of Graham Greene's works. I especially would like to know if they did, and also what they thought of "Travels with My Aunt" which I love dearly, and am proud to have it in my collection. I love the movie adaptation equally because it still hews to the spirit of the book, while becoming its own work. I wouldn't mind if that person didn't like "Travels with My Aunt." Different opinions make the world worth living in each day, adding color by way of the minds that harbor those opinions, those minds shaped by influences different from mine.

I've now reached "Stamboul Train" (published in the United States as "Orient Express", but this Penguin edition has the original title), after being unable to find "The Name of Action" and "Rumour at Nightfall" in the County of Los Angeles library catalog. I will get to those one day, since I want to see how much Greene improved with "The Name of Action" after "The Man Within", but the copies floating around on the Internet are prohibitively expensive. There are copies for $136, $600, $120, $250. Not for me. Maybe Penguin will republish Greene's works and make it easier on me. I'm not disappointed. I can't wait to see what comes next. And having been introduced to the varied, well-drawn characters of "Stamboul Train", which capture my interest more than that first novel (It's indicative of Greene learning more and starting to become a major force in literature), it's going to be quite a grand adventure.

Wow! You're a Rory and You Wrote a Book? What a Coincidence!

I went looking for a book by a Rory, involving a dock.

That's all I knew.

I went to the County of Los Angeles library website, thinking that all I would need is "dock Rory", under "Title." Nothing.

I went to Amazon. "dock Rory." I found it. "Down at the Docks" by Rory Nugent (How I discovered this book is fodder for a longer entry and you won't have to wait long, but not right now). The first time I read it, I got restless, though I think now it was no fault of the book. But after my mind hooked into this book again and reintroduced me to it just now, I decided on a new pursuit amidst all my other reading and writing-related pursuits:

I'm going to read all the books written by a Rory.

First, I've become one of the author Rorys. Secondly, whenever I search for only my first name on Google, I come upon Rorys who are golfers, musicians, artists, a chairmaker, a hot-tub installer, a politician, and other quite unique careers. I was blessed with this name. I ought to see how other writer Rorys are making good on the name.

NPR CEO: I'm Game!

I hear NPR has a vacant CEO slot. I'm happy to take the job as long as I get to harass Peter Sagal with obsolete trivia, and frustrate Garrison Keillor with my attempts to look and sound like a Minnesotan. I'll be the David Brent/Michael Scott of the smart set!