Book binge

I should be transplanting stuff–last night was supposed to be a big frost night but this area is too near the lake to have been affected much, oh, maybe a touch on the more exotic varieties of impatients, so I don’t have a lot of time left if I want to move some plants.

Instead, I have just found out about a book sale, a 20% teacher discount at Half Price books, no doubt in honor of Leif Erikson Day. When I was in Minneapolis last month, I was introduced to Half Price Books. Everyone recommended it. Oh, sure, I thought, I’ve seen those half price stores before, overpriced factory seconds of stuff no one wants to read. Fortunately I postponed my book shopping until I was almost ready to leave, or I wouldn’t have visited with anyone at all. The bookstore turns out to be a used bookstore, better than Dinkytown’s university strip bookstores, and better even than Chicago’s Powell’s and the little rare book store next to Florian’s near the U of C. And it’s a chain with stores in 17 different states. Yes, there are 5 in the Chicago area, and the closest one is about an hour away from where I live.


What can I do?

strunk and white and kalmanUPDATE: After poking around the bookstore, I am in a slightly better mood and no longer snarking about tomorrow’s Columbus Day holiday. I have now taken possession of, inter alia, an Arabic dictionary, Freya Stark’s 1939 The Valleys of the Assassins and, a book I have been searching for for a long time, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Not only did I find several copies of the third edition and one of the fourth edition, but the copy I finally obtained has Maira Kalman’s illustrations. Now I can see for myself what all the linguists’ prescriptivist/descriptivist fuss is all about. And yes, I did just end that last sentence with a preposition. And that last one too.

From the introduction to the Stark book:

An imaginative aunt who, for my ninth birthday, sent a copy of the Arabian nights, was, I suppose, the original cause of trouble.

Unfostered and unnoticed, the little flame so kindled fed secretly on dreams.  Chance, such as the existence of a Syrian missionary near my home, nourished it; and Fate, with long months of illness and leisure, blew it to a blaze bright enough to light my way through labyrinths of Arabic, and eventually to land me on the coast of Syria at the end of 1927.

Here, I thought, all difficulty was over: I had now but to look around me, to learn, and to enjoy.

And so I would have been had not those twin Virtues so fatal to the joie de vivre of our civilized West, the sense of responsibility and the illusion, dear to well-regulated minds, that every action must have a purpose–had not these virtues of Responsibility and Purpose met me at every step with the embarrassing enquiry: “Why are you here alone? and: What do you intend to do?”

I may confess at once that I had never thought of why I came, far less of why I came alone: and as to what I was going to do–I saw no cause to trouble about a thing so nebulous beforehand.  My sense of responsibility was in effect deficient, and purpose non-existent.

When excessively badgered, the only explanation I could think of for being so unwantedly in Asia was an interest in Arabic grammar–a statement rarely accepted in that candid spirit in which I offered it to unconvinced inquirers.

I came to the conclusion that some more ascetic reason than mere enjoyment should be found if one wishes to travel in peace: to do things for fun smacks of levity, immorality almost, in our utilitarian world.  And though personally I think the world is wrong, and I know in my heart of hearts that it is a most excellent reason to do things merely because one likes the doing of them, I would advise all those who wish to see unwrinkled brows in passport offices to start out ready labeled as entomologists, anthropologists, or whatever other -ology they think suitable and propitious.

I do think I’m going to enjoy Ms. Stark’s company.

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