Technically, I have a rule that for every book I bring into the house, I have to donate one elsewhere. But until there’s no more room on the shelves or on the coffee table, and I have to resort to stacking books in big wobbly piles on the floor, this isn’t a rule I’m inclined to enforce.
Of course, I have no business visiting my library’s biennial book sale, but I do. (There was even a time when I volunteered there just to be one of the early shoppers.)
What do I find there? Everything. A few years ago I picked up a battered manual from 1957, the Better Homes & Gardens Handyman’s Book, which I refer to for basic home repairs. Last year I bought a beautifully illustrated booklet called “The ABC of Cocktails,” published 60 years ago, full of drinks I’ve never heard of, like Cuban Apricots and Clover Clubs, as well as a strange cookbook, “Large Quantity Recipes,” published in 1951, instructing readers on how to make, say, beetroot cocktail for 50. (A side note: Almost all cookbooks for sale this way are fascinating, especially the kind self-published by church groups and clubs. I flip through all of them, noting with interest which pages are dog-eared, stiff with dried batter — or, more interestingly, annotated.”Never again!” someone angrily scribbled over the recipe for the ranch fridge salad in a crumbling Dallas Junior cookbook League.)
But the best finds are the torn paperbacks, the fiction I’ve never read and didn’t know I needed.
Last year I bought two of Rex Stout’s famous Nero Wolfe mysteries, which I had never read. There are, I’ve since learned, dozens, though the ones I got were No. 13, “And Be a Villain,” and No. 30, a collection of novellas called “And Four to Go.” It pained me that I didn’t start at number 1 (I’m a person who reads everything), but I dove in. where he fusses over his rare orchids and consumes huge gourmet meals prepared by his chef, Fritz, while solving crimes with his sidekick Archie Goodwin. The mysteries in these two books are pretty standard – cyanide poisoning and the like – but Wolfe is the attraction, a magnificent, eccentric detective, inordinately fond of yellow silk pajamas, comfy chairs and the word “flummery.” Lord Peter Wimsey and Hercule Poirot seem pale and dull in comparison.
Read if you like: Dorothy Sayers, Louise Penny, Josephine Tey, PD James
Available from: Libraries and bookstores (although you may need to place an order). I’ve discovered the audio versions, which are excellent.
This was a real find from the library sale: a satirical novel that pierces the inner workings of a fictional book review that sounds an awful lot like DailyExpertNews Book Review, written by someone who was an editor for years at DailyExpertNews book review. (He took early retirement after the first two chapters were published in The Nation, later saying, “I made up the facts, but not the spirit of them.”)
A broadcast of the stuffy, starchy world of 1980s literary criticism may not sound appealing, but “The Belles Lettres Papers” is prickly, wonderfully fun, brimming with thinly disguised characters and plenty of publicity scandal. The Times reviewed the book under the headline “Anyone we know?” for other authors and critics, a lot of sharpened barbs and jingling keys.
Read if you like: Book industry novels, such as “The Man on the Third Floor” by Anne Bernays; “Three-Martini Lunch,” by Suzanne Rindell; and “The Accident” by Chris Pavone
Available from: Libraries
Why do not you go…
Become one TALLER? Lara Maiklem, a London mudlarker, sifts through the rubble deposited on the banks of the Thames at low tide and finds historic gems: Roman brooches, Elizabethan coins, medieval shoe buckles, Tudor shoes. But as she explains in “A Field Guide to Larking,” you don’t have to live near a river to lark: displaced. … The world is filled with overlooked wonders, you just have to slow down long enough to find them.”
Become whole and complete LOST in “The Master Theorem: A Book of Puzzles, Intrigue and Wit”, which is so diabolical almost causes panic in the escape room?
Take a bite from “Philip Sparrow Tells All: Lost Essays by Samuel Steward, Writer, Professor, Tattoo Artist”, which originally appeared in The Illinois Dental Journal in the 1940s? I promise you there are no teeth or anything dental in this caustic, melancholy, Sedaris-esque take on everything from cryptography and bodybuilding to Gertrude Stein, Chicago, ballet and men’s fashion.
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