Monday, May 30, 2011

Libris ... and Lost

I'm cross-posting this at my own blog and the SBC, from an idea for a thread I had at Historical Fiction Online ...

My brother read a book when he was in college (probably around 1986), "The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks" by Donald Harington. A work of historical fiction, it was also a picaresqe, an episodic series of fables and tall tales, a history of a family, and a history of a wonderful, fictional town in (oddly enough) Arkansas, the town of Stay More. He liked it so muc he wanted to give a copy to me ... but, try as he might, in the late 1980s we didn't have Bibliofind or Teh Intarwebs, and he never could find another. So he wrote the most beautiful note - about that - in it ... and gave me his own copy. Probably the single most meaningful gift book I ever received. And I did hugely enjoy the story; I just loved it.

I read it, and re-read it, I recommended it up down and sideways, I got goopy over it, and always ALWAYS attached to it its significance as a talisman of the love of my brother.

In the fullness of time, the internet DID come to exist, and one day ten years or so after he'd given me the book, I came to be friends with a woman in Arkansas, who actually KNEW Donald Harington, not well, but worked at the same institution he did. The rest can be guessed - she was a sweet soul, and generous, and offered to take my beloved book and have him sign it.

I've never seen it again, a dozen or so years later. *Le Sigh*

The story doesn't quite end there exactly. Nine-ish years ago, I dated a guy for a little while - also a writer, though I can't say a great one - who was from the first instant a bit more "enthusiastic" about our relationship than I ever got to be. Apparently, on our first date, I mentioned TAOTAO (see the title re: the acronym) ... and on our *second* date, this guy had eBayed up a FIRST EDITION copy of the novel. Eep.

It would have been an amazing gift, if it had come from someone I (a) had a relationship with, or (b) at least *eventually* came to really love. As things stood, though, it was just sort of too-much/too-desperate, and after all these years, following the moments I sort of leafed through it in the instant he gave me the gift ... I have never opened it one time. I still have it, but the emotional energy of that book is ambivalence - whereas the emotional power of the one my brother had given me, just a paperback, with bent covers, and filled with both his own note and my own marginalia, was intimately affectionate.

The importance we imbue objects with, it seems to me becomes even more special with books. I once had a terrible scene with someone who'd broken up with me, and from whom I asked for a book back, because it represented to me the essence of that part of myself he was rejecting - and he wanted to keep it, which was almost more insulting than the end itself. Books of my father's still can make me weep - and the bookshelf I built with him is one of my proudest possessions.

Even apart from the loss of our most beloved books, I am fascinated at the ways a bound sheaf of pages ... can become something so much more important ...

Just a few years ago, I actually emailed Donald Harington, after visiting his website. He was working on a new book at that time. It was lovely, and kind of exciting, to speak with the man who created this chain with so many links in my own life - and he was so kind about the story, too.

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