Category Archives: First Editions

May Days

May is a mixed bag.  Here’s my list of the coming month’s anxieties and anticipations …

1. Opening the patio.  The rains here are officially finished.  We won’t see another drop — not one! — until probably November.  No kidding.  It’s time to get the big oak trestle table and cushioned chairs out of the garage, and invite the neighbors over for what we call “chosen-family dinner.”

2.  Reading outside.  This kind of goes with #1.  I’m 150 pages into Alexandra Stryon’s READING MY FATHER (which, so far, is to die for), and today I was able to sit outside under the crimson-colored, Japanese Maple, warm breezes blowing through, with this book on my lap …. aka, heaven.  Even if you’ve never read Styron, you would appreciate this daughter’s plunge into her father’s life.  Beautifully written, and revelatory.

3.  Mothers Day.  Good god, Mothers Day.  I dread it, or hate it, or both.  Oh, I hated it when my mother was alive, too, but for different reasons.  Mothers Day used to feel like an obligation, one established by Hallmark Cards and predicated on guilt.  Once a year we were all required by mass marketing to prove how much we loved our mothers, how much we thought about them, missed them, couldn’t exist without them.  We had to choose the right card.  We had to get that card in the mail on time — the two-day-late card being far, far worse than no card at all.  Now, of course, I wish I had to buy the damned card.

4.  Good friends and family.  We’re meeting one of our favorite couples for a long weekend.  There will be too much food, too much wine, and too much laughter.  We’ll also be in Indiana to visit my son and in-laws —- in-laws who don’t seem the least bit like in-laws at all.  Since my mother passed, these family visits are invaluable to me.

5.  AmyG !  In a couple of weeks, AmyG and I will be meeting at an undisclosed location.  🙂  I’m sure there will be (a) buku coffee, (b) hugging, (c) gossip, (d) photos (at least one!), and (e) commiserating about our writing lives.  Maybe her beautiful office / desk organization will rub off on me.

6.  E.L. Doctorow, for a reading one night and an “in conversation” the next day.  I will have to read his masterpiece, RAGTIME.  I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read a word of E.L. Doctorow.  Have you?

7.  Am I skinny yet?  This is about the time I start to panic about summer clothes.  Okay, I’m already really, really panicked.  I’m never as thin as I want to be when May rolls around.  Why do I always, always imagine I’ll magically be a size 6 — ha!! — by now????

8.  Gifts of this magi, running late.  This week I’ll be delivering gifts to my favorite professors, first editions of books they love.  Sometime tomorrow I need to sit down and write them the notes to go with the books, telling them how much and why I appreciate them, how much I’ll miss them now that I’m gone.

9.  Graduation.  Though I officially graduated in December, all the ceremonies are later this month.  For us MFA’s, we’ve got 3 official events, though I will only be attending one:  the big, all-school one.  Early on a Saturday morning, I’m going to don my robe and the big, brown-trimmed Masters hood, and take my place in line.  I have always loved school so much — I’m kinda sad it’s finished, even at age 45.

10.  WORK.  So much re-writing to be done on my book.  Thankfully it’s work I’m looking forward to plunging into.  And speaking of writing, here’s a little bit from Alexandra Styron’s book about her father’s (my icon’s) work habits:

The big living room was Daddy’s domain.  Here he read, watched the news, clinked ice around in his Scotch glass, and hid from the rest of us.  During the day, he wrote in the study in the little house.  But when evening came, he’d set his manuscript pages up at the bar and pace the gold shag carpet, making revisions to the day’s work with Mozart blaring on the hi-fi.

Here’s to family and friends, to the coming of Summer, to our literary and teaching heroes, to reading and working.  Maybe I’ll try a Scotch and some Mozart.


Christmas Comes on April 25

2010 Australian Open: The first time I saw Roger Federer in person.

Talk about your stories and your books — it’s an old fashioned Merry Christmas here in Carter Library.  This morning, Lyra pointed me towards a David Foster Wallace essay on Roger Federer.  I believe her instructions were, “you must stop what you’re doing and read it right now.”  I did.  She was right.  Check out this little blurb:

“Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.  The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.”

Reading it also made me miss DFW.  What a loss.  I could never get going with his fiction, but his essays were (are) a treat.  His collection, CONSIDER THE LOBSTER, remains my favorite book of essays (anybody’s essays).

Then the mail came with its usual bills and junk, but also –finally — with Alexandra Styron’s READING MY FATHER.  I’ve been watching the mailbox like a school kid for 5 days wondering where is it.  I have a friend coming into town this afternoon and she’s staying with us through Thursday, so I doubt I’ll get much reading done, but I’ll be looking forward to the few pages I can sneak in each night before sleep zaps me.

And if that wasn’t enough, the special mail delivery flung a big brown box onto the steps with some first editions we’d ordered, including gifts for a few of my favorite professors.  I can’t wait to drop those off next week at the university, the best thank you’s I could think of for those few who made my grad school experience fun.  The fact remains:  there’s nothing quite like having teachers who love to teach.  Thank you Sam, Bob, and John — I already miss you and your classes.

Merry Christmas everybody …

Emily’s First (and last)

Do you have an extra $12,000 laying around?  If so, you’re in luck.  Bauman Rare Books is selling a First American Edition of WUTHERING HEIGHTS for exactly that price.  This U.S. edition was published about five months after the London first edition (the London one being virtually unobtainable), so if you’re in the market …

Emily Bronte died in 1848 at age 30, the year after this novel — her first and last — was published.  Even though I know this, it’s always just crazy to think about.  One book, an epic, before age 30.  Imagine what she could have done with more years.  Or maybe she would have been like a Harper Lee and been happy with just the one great book.  We’ll never know.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS is my most beloved classic, the one I go back to when all the modern books I’m reading start to seem too flat and too predictable and too ‘just like all the other books I’m reading’.  This classic has everything I crave in an epic story:  ominous settings, complex characters, obsession, love, revenge.

What more could a (40-something) girl want?  Well, her very own First Edition, of course.  Now where did I put that extra $12 grand …

What’s your go-to classic?

Blinded …

I’ve had a little itsy bitsy teeny snafu with my holiday reading plans.  One week traveling to visit family in the Midwest and, alas, almost no reading was done.  It seems I have cataracts.  Yes.  I said “cataracts.”  Those things our great-grandparents get, though I have apparently hit the jackpot and acquired them at the ripe old age of 45.  I’ve managed fine for the last year or so, but last week the clouds came in both eyes and the reading brakes went on.  I could have cried.  But I was too f-ing mad to cry.  I was half-way through Catcher in the Rye and about 20 pages into Michelle Moran’s Cleopatra’s Daughter and then … nothing.

So now that I’m finished feeling sorry for myself, I’ll get on with it.  I am not getting the whole Catcher-In-The-Rye-Thing.  Halfway in and, honestly, I could care less.  Is it because it’s a boy book?  And a teenage boy book at that?  The narrator’s voice was getting on my nerves and I just kept reading and reading and thinking, “Why do I care what happens to this kid?”  And I just didn’t care.  For all of you Catcher-Fans out there, my apologies, but I’ve officially given up on this book.  God I hate that, but there it is.

As I suspected, Cleopatra’s Daughter is absolutely engaging and interesting and it books right along.  Even though I could barely make out the words with my old-lady-eyes, I made myself squint and struggle through about 10 pages a night and was plenty mad when I had to finally give up and put the book down.

The highlight of the week, reading-wise, was our visit to Black Swan Books in Lexington, Kentucky.  It’s set up in a Victorian house downtown, and the owner is (as you may or may not imagine) a character.  I’ve never seen a used book store that beautiful, that clean and well-organized.  What a pleasure!  He had an entire wall, glass enclosed, of first editions and author-signed books.  He offered Rex a a first edition of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for several hundred dollars, but we had to pass.  And then he told us the story of Ralph Steadman, who did all the artwork in that book, and how he and his wife came through the store.  He had an excellent copy of Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo which I would love to have, but it was also out of my price range, as well as a near perfect copy of Push. He claims to have an entire collection of William Styron — in his mother’s basement — that I’m very, very, crazily interested in.  (If you read this blog regularly, you know I worship at two altars:  William Styron and Margaret Atwood.)  So he said to call him 2 weeks in advance the next time we come to town and he’ll dig them up out of the basement for us.  Wow.  Just imagining those great books, down in the dark basement, all alone, makes me sad.  I need to see those books!  I guess I should be thankful he didn’t have them in the store because, (a) someone ELSE might buy them!, and (b) I might have had to write a big fat check, right there on the spot.

I’m back home in CA — where it is NOT 15 degrees outside! — and will see the eye doctor tomorrow to see if he can fix me.  I spent 6 hours on an airplane today playing Scrabble on the iPad because I could see, kinda-sorta, those big letters, but I missed reading so, so much.  Hopefully, I can be up and on the books again in no time.  Fingers crossed.

Gloomy, happy Saturday

The sun is hiding here in northern California today.  So strange!  But a good day to spend the afternoon looking for a new pizza joint and visiting our favorite used book store in San Jose, Recycle Books.

I finally picked up a copy of Nabakov’s Speak, Memory which has long been on my list.  And Rex found a couple of First Editions to add to the Carter Library:  Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible and Joan Didion’s White Album. Merry Christmas to us.

Steinbeck treasure

Busy writing (and not reading much) this morning, but I will say:  my husband recently brought home a First Edition of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.  It’s propped up on the bookshelf, next to all the other First Editions, face forward, right in my sight line.  And just looking at it makes me happy.

October Books

I’ve tried to get into a few books in the last few weeks.  I went back to Leon Uris’s Trinity because I wanted to see why I loved this book so much the first time I read it, 13 years ago, and even more than that wanted get lost in a story that already feels familiar.  Then Rex brought home a crime novel — not normally my thing — but the writer has written 3 books, all of which have been nominated for the Edgar prize, and I learned that his books are more “literary” in nature.  So I’m reading John Hart’s first book, The King of Lies. The writing is good and I’m intrigued.  I hope I finish it.

Last week Lan Samantha Chang, the director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, came through town and I went to see her talk about her job and her life in Iowa.  Interesting lady.  She’s traveling around to promote her new book, All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost, which tells a story within a prestigious creative writing program, so I thought I’d give it a try as well.  It’s “okay” but tiresome.  The word “acolyte” is overused and starting to bug me, but on a larger scale, reading about the neuroses, competition, and ass-kissing of a top writing program is not striking the right cord with me.  I’m supposed to feel some empathy for these characters, but honestly I just want them all to appreciate their good fortune and to stop whining!