11 April 2007

How Can So Many Memories Fit Into One Little Book? #1

Does anyone else have books that are more than just books, because they have become part of the time and place that you first read them?

Back during college I happened to catch the Masterpiece Theatre presentation of Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, Murder Must Advertise (this was before the British mysteries were spun off to Mystery). I remember Alistair Cooke's delightful commentary on the British society portrayed by Sayers, but most of all I remember Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter. Many people complain he was too old for the role and I suppose he was, but he fit the bill perfectly.

In any case, this caused me to go out and buy all the Wimsey books, and several weeks ago I dug out my copy of The Nine Tailors again and plumped happily into the affairs of little Fenchurch St. Paul and making agreeable reacquaintance of Lord Peter, the inestimable Mervyn Bunter (Wimsey's faithful gentleman's gentleman), the garrilous Reverend Venables, precocious Hilary Thorpe, the Thodays and all the working-class folks of the village—and of the eight-bell ring in the large village church: the bells John, Jericho, Jubilee, Saboath, Batty Thomas, Gaude, Dimity, and Tailor Paul. (That's all from memory!) Tailor Paul is the tenor bell, which is rung nine strokes whenever a man dies, which gives the novel its name.

I can't sniff the book print in this one without falling deep, deep into a time machine and coming out in the midst of the little Paperback Books (that's what it was called, and that's what you made the check out to) store that used to be on Weybosset Street in Providence in the 1960s and 1970s. It was across the street from Providence's signature department store, the Outlet Company.

Compared to the designer stores we have today, the paperback bookstore wasn't much on decoration. The show windows in front were always filled with books whose covers were fading from the sun. When you entered, you faced an L-shaped floor plan and the linoleum on the floor was cracked and broken. The cashier sat in a booth that was reached by a short flight of stairs, so she could overlook the store for shoplifters. Racks of books were even set up against this booth. The bookshelves were plain wood, nothing much—but they were crammed with books, books, books... The shelves reached up to about six feet, and then the remainder of the wall and then entire ceiling was covered with posters: rock bands, television favorites, even those black-light psychedelic things so favored in the late 60s. No coffee shop, no games, no overbright lighting—just filled bookshelves and the heady scent of bookprint.

The paperback bookstore had the best media book section anywhere. If a television series had a novelization based on it, or if a book was being made into a movie, it showed up on their shelves long before it hit the screen or theatre. I still have my copy of Cromwell that I bought after we had seen the Richard Harris movie as a school field trip.

The cashier there, a heavyset young woman, was also fannish. One day I was surprised to see what looked like some typeset 8 1/2 by 11 pages stapled together with a colored cardstock cover with drawings of some Star Trek characters on it. I looked at it, but it was priced more than I had. I wish I'd picked it up; it was the infamous "Night of the Twin Moons" Sarek/Amanda fanzine, the very first time I'd ever seen one. I didn't realize what it was until I read the book Star Trek Lives!

The mystery books were off in the back right corner—I can remember the whole floor plan as if it were yesterday—and the Lord Peter Wimsey books were on the right wall, a shelf or two from the bottom. They were $1.25 in those days, a vast sum, and I ended up buying two at the time from my college textbook money without telling my mother. (I bought the trade paperback, Lord Peter, with all the Wimsey short stories including the elusive "Talboys," which takes place after Peter and Harriet have three sons, and my mother had a fit when she found out I paid...ulp!...$3.95 for it!) Most of the books were published by Avon, but for some reason The Nine Tailors was owned by another publisher, Harcourt, so all my copies don't match. I swallowed them all like sweets and then read them a second time, and some, like Murder Must Advertise and The Nine Tailors, over and over again.

When I open up The Nine Tailors, I open the door to the paperback bookstore again, hear the bell, sniff the ink scent that is more compelling than any perfume...

1 comment:

Emma said...

Linda, that place sounds like manna from heaven! I saw a few stores like that on my treck through Center City Philadephia. None of them were nearly as big, but they were all filled to the brim with used books! My favorites are Ralstoff's Records and Books (double heaven!) on 10th Street and Whodunnit on Chestnut. (As you may guess, yes, they specialize in mysteries, but they do sell other genres, including nonfiction.)

My mom used to get upset with me when I'd bring home yet another book, too. She loved that I read so much, but not that I spent so much money! (One of the reasons I moved out was so I could collect as much "junk" as I wanted without Mom fussing!)