A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion of Books, First Ed., First Prtg
As I have frankly admitted elsewhere, I am a literary stalker. Harmless, of course. I'm a pacifist for the most part.
There are those whose works I must have. The copies of their works must be pristine, neither slanted or cocked. Nothing other than a first printing will do. I must meet the authors of these marvelous works. An impersonally signed edition simply will not do. I am somewhat snobbish in addition to having descended to the covert art of stalking. You may read of my exploits concerning my tracking of Clyde Edgerton here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....
The Unsuspecting Clyde Edgerton
Of course, there are far more subtler methods of obtaining the coveted signed edition--The Book Festival, The Book Tour, The uncertain order from an unfamiliar Bookseller on line, a rather less than comforting gambit. This leads to the oft mis-graded edition, the inscribed, rather than signed edition. I frankly do not care for a volume inscribed "For your birthday Betty, Best Wishes Renowned Author who has no idea in Hell who Betty is and is unlikely to share a slice of cake with said Betty. There is the tried and true method of relying on your goodreads friends to have your editions signed if you get there's signed. This has been the Sullivan/Keeten approach on occasion. But at the end of reasoning through all the methods considered more rational, one must resort to less conventional methods.
The inevitable conclusion is that we and our own beloved authors have only so much time on this earth. Time's winged chariot, and all that unpleasant business.
Then I found the ideal literary stalker's weapon, excuse me--reference source placed in my hands. Bless Ronald Rice, the editor of this especially useful and beautiful little book. It bears such an innocent and gentle appearance, too. Just look at it. Little would one realize that contained within the pages of this literary stalker's manifesto are eighty-four, yes, count them, essays by the poor unsuspecting authors revealing their favorite places to browse, read, and shop. Yes, the actual locations of these businesses are contained in this book. And these bookstores and their owners have a special place in the hearts of these writers. They show up there a lot. Yes, this is the ultimate stake out manual for those in search of the signed edition.
For you, oh fortunate reader, the bookstore of your favorite author could be in your own city. Or in a location within the distance of a brief drive. Or, you could hook up the GPS and set out on the ultimate quest. Eighty-four authors, eighty-four bookstores, eighty-four cities. Confess. You've always believed in the quest for the Holy Grail. Here's your ticket to ride.
Me, I have my eye on Purple Crow Books, Hillsborough, North Carolina. That happens to be the favorite books shop of Lee Smith, on whom I've had a crush since high school when she was a reporter at the Tuscaloosa News. I still consider her a most beautiful woman. And, by the way, Hillsborough happens to be the home of twenty-seven North Carolina authors. Well, I'm headed in that direction on December 21st, 2012. I'm on a quest.
First you read the essay, then you google the store. Voila!
Why, Ms. Smith. Imagine meeting you here! Would you like a cup of tea? We met at Jake's in Homewood. Yes, you signed my copy of Fancy Strut
Oh, I have my first signature. It is Rick Bragg, signature only, on the title page, purchased at his and my favorite bookstore, "The Alabama Booksmith," in Homewood, Alabama. And, it is my bookstore, too. I had my favorite bookseller, Jake Reiss, sign it, too. Consider having your favorite booksellers signing the sections on their marvelous shops. After all, what would we do without them, too?
This is a solid Five Star Reference for great bookstores. Keep this one in your suitcase as you travel. You just never know who you might meet. ...more
"The Name of the Rose" is not a book to be picked up lightly with the expectation that you, the reader, are about to embark on a traditional work of h"The Name of the Rose" is not a book to be picked up lightly with the expectation that you, the reader, are about to embark on a traditional work of historical fiction. Umberto Eco expects much from the reader of this book. Almost immediately the unsuspecting reader will find himself dropped into the midst of the High Middle Ages, a society completely foreign for the majority of modern readers.
In historical context, the story occurs during the time the Papacy had moved from its traditional location in Italy to Avignon. John XXII is a Pope brought to the head of the Holy Roman Church by the King of France. John is not the first Pope to leave the Church's Italian home.
However, it is 1327, and great dissatisfaction pervades Europe that a French King should have political influence over the Church. Traditionally, following the division of the Roman Empire between West and East, the secular protection of the Church had fallen to the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, a title held by members of the royal families of Germany. In that year, Louis IV would declare himself the King of Italy and in 1328 he would crown himself the next Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
Louis' entrance into Italy was inevitable, as King Phillip of France had encouraged an alliance with the "French" Pope through his connection with the King of Naples. Louis' sympathies, or perhaps his political acumen, led him to support the Franciscan Order, committed to the life of poverty. This was in direct contradiction to the Papal Bulls issued by John XXII, who saw the Franciscan Orders as a disruptive force among the common people. Off shoots of the Fransiscan's, particularly the Psuedo-Apostles, led by Fra Dolcino, had led to absolute chaos in Italy. Dolcino's common followers attacked the wealthy to bring about a universal state of poverty. There should be no rich. There should be no poor. The ultimate goal of Dolcino was to abolish the need of the Church and place it under the authority of the people. Under this theory, there was no need for Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, or ecclesiastical offices of any type.
William of Baskerville's purpose in going to the Abbey of Melko is as an emissary of the Imperial Theologians to negotiate a meeting between legations appointed by the Pope and Louis to resolve the conflict between the Papacy, the Minorite or Franciscan orders, and Louis. What is at stake is a reinterpretation between Church and State. That the underlying issue concerns who will wield true power in Europe is obvious.
However, William's true mission is delayed. For, upon his arrival, he discovers that a young Illuminator in the Abbey's Scriptorium has met an untimely death. Was it murder or suicide? The death of a second monk, clearly indicates that someone in the closed society of the Abbey of Melk is a murderer.
Accompanied by his scribe, Adso, William sets out to investigate the deaths of the two monks. The mystery only deepens as more deaths occur. The circumstances seem to follow the sounding of the trumpets as revealed in the Revelation of John.
Eco continues to complicate the facts of William's case by revealing that the Abbey contains one of the finest libraries known in the contemporary world. Interestingly, no one but the Librarian, his assistant, or someone with the permission of the Abbot himself can gain entry to the library, which is protected by a labyrinth seemingly incapable of being navigated.
William of Baskerville is the equivalent of a Medieval Sherlock Holmes. Adso, whose French name happens to be Adson, conveniently rhyming with Watson. William is a man committed to logic. He is a student of Roger Bacon. He is a contemporary of William of Occam. It should come as no surprise that he is capable of the art of deduction through that logic, nor that he should be in possession of a pair of optical lenses, serving him as eyeglasses enabling him to read the tiny writing of a murdered monk, barely perceptible to the naked eye. The monk's almost invisible writing lead William and Adso to discover the secrets of the labyrinth and to search for a book that seems to hold the motive for the accumulating bodies, day by day.
The Abbot pointedly tells William that the matter of these deaths must be resolved prior to the arrival of the two legations. The Papal legation is headed by Bernard of Gui, an infamous inquisitor who has burned many a heretic in his long history as a defender of the faith. Surely Bernard will take over the question of the deaths at the Abbey and use them to strengthen the Pope's position that the Franciscan's philosophy of the poverty of Christ be eliminated by the Pope.
William and Adso's exploration of the labyrinth to discover a missing book, the seeming motive for the murders, intensify. And they succeed in discovering their way through the labyrinth. However, they are unsuccessful in unraveling an endless thread of textual clues leading from one manuscript to the next prior to the arrival of the two opposed legations.
As feared, the discovery of yet another body, the herbalist Severinus, leads Bernard Gui to take over the inquisition to root out the evil present in the abbey. Bernard is ruthless. Torture is an accepted practice to disclose the works of the devil. As expected, Bernard announces he intends to inform the Pope that the Franciscan orders of Poverty should be prohibited.
Nevertheless, William and Adso will solve the mystery of the labyrinth, the secret manuscript it contains, and the identity of the murderer. In keeping with my practice not to reveal any spoilers of plot, I will not address the identity of the murderer, nor the motive for the crimes.
But, I will say this. "The Name of the Rose" is a labyrinth complete within itself. While a labyrinth may contain a solution, and one may escape its twists and turns, it is not always possible to end up with an answer that leaves no ambiguity. There is more than one labyrinth present in Eco's wonderful work. One question relates to the interpretation of knowledge itself. Is knowledge finite? Are there universal truths? Or is it a matter of what appears to be the truth only subject to interpretation by individuals?
To the librarians of the Abbey Melko, knowledge was something to be protected from disclosure. As I mentioned to one friend, the library took on the connotation of Eden's Tree of Life, from which man and woman were forbidden to eat. It was knowledge gained from eating the forbidden fruit that led to the loss of innocence. Considering that the library contained many works considered by the librarians to be the work of infidels, it would be their purpose to hide those works from the innocent. Yet, the mere possession of that knowledge also led to its misinterpretation and the accusation of heresy.
Clearly, during the heated debate between the Papal and Imperial Legations, knowledge did not exist independent of the thinker's perception. One postulation of a particular theological theorem was subject to debate on the most minute detail out of political motivation.
But, Adso may well have had the most significant statement to make regarding books and their contents. It will be one of my favorite passages:
"Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.”
Even William was subject to hearing words so familiar, he knew he had read them before, but could not remember the name of the book. “It seemed to me, as I read this page, that I had read some of these words before, and some phrases that are almost the same, which I have seen elsewhere, return to my mind?”
Books find themselves the creator of other books,when they become so deeply planted in our subconscious. A famous contemporary example is found in Nabokov's "Lolita." Nabokov's character first appeared in a short story "Lolita," written in 1916 by Heinz von Eschwege. The story lines are quite similar. Nabokov has been said to have created artistic improprieties, or been subject to a phenomenon known as "cryptomnesia," a hidden memory of a story he had once read. Michael Marr, author of "The Two Lolitas," wrote, "Literature has always been a huge crucible in which familiar themes are continually recast..."
Perhaps James Baldwin said it best. "It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive."
As "The Name of the Rose" contains a multitude of Latin phrases, I think it fitting to add one more, not included in the book itself. That is "sub rosa." The concept first appears in Egyptian culture. The rose was the symbol of the Egyptian God Horus, most often represented by a child holding his finger to his mouth as if he were saying, "Shhhh." It became symbolic of silence. It reappears in Greek and Roman mythology. Venus/Aphrodite gave a rose to Cupid which served as a symbol of silence regarding her many indiscretions in love.
By the Middle Ages, the rose had a definite meaning. In those times, when a party of individuals met in a council hall, a rose was hung over the table. Whatever was discussed "under the rose" was secret and all parties meeting under the rose agreed that the subject of their discussions was confidential. Much lies under the surface of this novel. It was deemed by the characters to be secret. And so, I believe Eco would have us treat this novel in modo sub rosa, leaving each reader to discover its secrets in their own manner. The further one delves, the more secrets remain to be discovered.
If you enjoy the books of Pat Conroy, you will enjoy this book. If you don't, you won't.
My first introduction to Pat Conroy was through the movie "ConIf you enjoy the books of Pat Conroy, you will enjoy this book. If you don't, you won't.
My first introduction to Pat Conroy was through the movie "Conrack," starring Jon Voight. I had never heard of Conroy, much less read him. However, the movie sent me in search of him. When I found the paperback movie tie-in, I was hooked.
From that time forward, I have read Conroy's books. I have met him, spoken with him, and seen him several times on the book circuit. His voice is a familiar sound to me, and when I here it, I can recognize it, before I see the face from whence the words flow. So when I pick up a new Conroy now, or return to one I have read, Pat Conroy's voice whispers to me as my eyes flicker over the words on the page. It is a most pleasant reading experience.
This book is not so much about the books which have influenced Conroy's life, but about the people in Conroy's life who introduced those books to him. It is surprising to see the venomous statements of some who have reviewed this literary memoir who proclaim that Conroy is a racist because he glorified the South of "Gone With the Wind." How sad. Those readers seem to have just skipped over the whole point that the chapter concerning that novel is a prose poem in homage to Conroy's mother who fired his imagination by instilling him with the love of books and reading them.
"My Reading Life" has its high points and its lows. The finest sections are those relating to Conroy's family, his English teacher Gene Norris, the owner of the Old New York Bookstore in Atlanta, and his first book rep who pushed countless "essential" novels into Conroy's hands, all the while telling him he would never be a great writer.
Here you will find Conroy's dry humor when relating his experiences of meeting Alice Walker, being thrown out of an Adrienne Rich poetry workshop for being male, and being an American in Paris while writing "The Lords of Discipline."
Here you will find Donald Conroy, "The Great Santini," who still holds a swaggering control of Pat Conroy's life, whether he will admit it or not. Conroy would have the reader believe that his soul is at rest with his father's ghost. However, this haunted relationship appears to pervade all the works of Pat Conroy.
The low points of Conroy's memoir are, for this reader, those sections dealing with an author or book for which there is no living connection with Conroy, a book which was not put into his hands by a person influential in his life. The section on "War and Peace" felt forced, that Conroy felt he could not address the issuer of reading without including what some consider the greatest novel ever written. Conroy himself says he would prefer Anna Karenina. Well, Mr. Conroy, why didn't you write about that instead?
The final chapters of "My Reading Life" seem the be the target of the reading public. Even I, a staunch devotee of Conroy's works, found myself thinking, "My, he doesn't know how to end this." So, perhaps the few final chapters detract from what is good in this book. One goodreads friend remarked, "It just petered out." I would love to see the look on Conroy's face if this lady were to say that to him. After all, this is the American in Paris approached by circles of confident ladies of the night, calling him "Beeg Boy." This is the man befriended by a free spirited poet who relished in revealing her sexual experiences with her many lovers. Conroy remarked, to the effect, "Gee,I'm glad we never ended up in the sack. I would hate to see I had been revealed to have chipmunk sized genitalia."
To say that I'm finished with this book isn't quite accurate. This is a book about books that I will return to time and again. Grab a copy of it and sTo say that I'm finished with this book isn't quite accurate. This is a book about books that I will return to time and again. Grab a copy of it and swim around in it. If you're like me, you will be humbled by it. The old saying, "So many books, so little time," is given new meaning by the authors Carmen Callil and Colm Toibin. I found so many books here I was not familiar with, I was almost ashamed, having considered myself a well read man.
You will find familiar titles here. Some might well surprise you. A few you would not expect to find on a selection of the two hundred best novels in English published since 1950. Callil and Toibin seem almost gleeful to include Carl Hiassen and a few other well known "popular" authors in this selection. The point that a book doesn't have to be serious to be great is well made.
The number two hundred isn't quite accurate. Callil and Toibin chose 194 of the titles. The remaining six were selected from a readers' poll. I would have liked to participate in that. But so it goes. I was pleased to find Sebastian Faulk's "Birdsong," among those six titles, one of my favorite novels set during the First World War.
This is one of those books you might have on your bedside table,to steer you towards your next read. A warning--many of these titles are not available if you want to put them on your favorite e-reader. You might have to visit your library or have a copy of your own. It's also unlikely that you will find any number of these titles at your local B&N. You'd better head to the nearest good Indie bookseller to find some of these jewels. Nor would I be surprised if I had to find a few on ABE.
When it comes to books there will always be treasures out there waiting to be discovered. This book is prospector's guide for the lover of literature who thinks they've read it all. Nope, none of us are even close....more