Saturday, October 12, 2013

Old loves in changing times.

I took a trip to a classic metropolitan bookstore today. I hate to say which one, because it made me a little sad. The shelves weren't as full as they once were, and the selection held no surprises. The likes of Amazon, eBay, and Alibris have changed the book lover's experience substantially in the last decade or so, and the rise of the e-book is on the verge of changing it even more.

I was reminded of an exchange between Barin, Aura, and Zarkov in that silly old Flash Gordon movie with the Queen soundtrack, in which a conversation on the spiritual conversions of Barin and Aura ends with Zarkov declaring, "A-ha! I thought it was one of the prime numbers in the zenith series! I haven't changed!" Because despite the world spinning on as it must, I found that, like Zarkov, I haven't changed.

The urge to by new editions of the same sixty stories just keeps coming back when nothing else in the bookstore attracts. A particularly attractive cover, a unique little box set, an odd individual publication of a single short story . . . each seemed to say, "Take me home with you! Let me join others of my kind in your library!" And it was a siren call that once, many years ago, I might have succumbed to. But many an urge grow muted with age, and the weight of all the editions of the Canon I already own kept my hand from picking up another.

But it isn't just the physical books that stay with one through changing times. I was thinking a lot of a particular governess with a particular shade of chestnut hair and her consultation with Sherlock Holmes over a small matter that just didn't sit quite right -- a potential employer who insisted she cut her hair. Such a simple little thing, yet Arthur Conan Doyle found the material for a solid yarn there. No need for Jack the Ripper, elaborate internet hackers, unique sexual relationships, vampires, theoretical mathematics, or other showboating past or present pastiches like to toss in. Perhaps time has made "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" a less viable tale for modern mass audiences, but why does it stick in my mind so well?

Perhaps it's just another old love sticking with me through changing times. So many fictions in whatever medium you choose fail to be memorable even a few months or a year after you experience them. Those tales that you find yourself holding on to then become very special . . . especially when everything else around you is changing.

Of course, holding on doesn't require stockpiling your library with too many redundant copies of those stories. But maybe just one more . . . .


  1. "Such a simple little thing, yet Arthur Conan Doyle found the material for a solid yarn there."

    That is something I've noticed myself. I think it's writerly laziness or something. Today the crime has to be enormous - the economy of whole nations endangered by nefarious stockbrokers, serial murders so grisly you nearly lose your latest meal over them. And it's even worse in movies. If the survival of the world as we know it or even better the whole universe is not at stake - don't bother. I'm getting really tired of this.

    But perhaps it's not the writers, but just the time we live in? I have no idea. I'm not the nostalgic type at all and I don't want to return to hansoms and gaslamps, but I'd love to see the return of the small intimate plot of "the butler, in the library, with the poker".

  2. One of my favorites is 'The Lion's Mane' which turns out just to be an act of nature. (Though I DO like a 'Walking Dead type body-count) there is something alluring about a nice little mystery without the whole world having to be endangered (And every famous person making a cameo!)

  3. You know...I do the exact opposite. Three years ago, I refurnished my bedroom, so I moved around half of my books into the cellar. And naturally, I didn't immediately had time to put them into the new shelves. Over time, books started to wander into them nevertheless, whenever I had the desire to reread of just to touch I have taken a good look at the books which were left in the cellar and decided: If I didn't have the desire to touch them once in three years, if I didn't even miss them, if most of them are books I only read once either way - then there is no reason to hold onto them. So I sold whatever possible and gave the rest to charity. And I'm now looking through my other books, deciding what to keep and what I can do very well without. It is honestly a freeing experience. All the space in the shelves...

  4. Same with me, Nonny. Since I've had my Kindle I've hardly touched any print books at all, so I'll see if I can get rid of them. Ah, space! :-D