Thanksgiving

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

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Book Lover

There is tranquility in a second-hand bookshop. Libraries are quiet because they must be. This is different. A kind of peace. Whatever it is, it suits me. I feel at home. It could just be the dust. Anyway, there I was kneeling in the art books, pulling them out and pushing them back. Have it, read it, not interested… I made my way down the row that way and swung round to continue on the shelf behind me. It was low. It was low and I am short and – on hands and knees – I still had to bend down to see. I was Carter making the tiny breach into Tutankhamun’s tomb. “Yes, I see wonderful things.” Little books. Little books that fit in my hands. Little books that fit in my pocket. Little books that fit under my pillow at night. Rows of little books running along the wooden floor of the bookshop like a literary baseboard. I wondered what perverse person put them there.  A brilliant short person, no doubt. I imagined them laughing maniacally: Bwahaha! Finally! Tall people will need us!

Obviously this is more about the gold and green 1902 volume next to me than the story inside. You can read about that anywhere. The Warden is the first of the much loved Chronicles of Barset by Anthony Trollope. The theme of the book is the clash of ancient privilege with modern social awareness. Blah, blah, blah… What no one else can tell you is this: It is the exact size of my hand! How fantastic is that? The exact size! It was made (and re-bound by Alison Leakey, so states the inside cover) for me!! These are the things I love about it:

#1

#2 There’s a small stain on page 329. Tea. I know exactly what caused it.

When the archdeacon left his wife and father-in-law at the Chapter Coffee House to go to Messrs Cox and Cumming, he had no very defined idea of what he had to do when he got there. Gentlemen when at law, or in any way engaged in matters requiring legal assistance, are very apt to describe such attendance as quite compulsory, and very disagreeable. The lawyers, on the other hand, do not at all see the necessity, though they quite agree as to the disagreeable nature of the visit; gentlemen when so engaged are usually somewhat gravelled at finding nothing to say to their learned friends; they generally talk a little politics, a little weather, ask some few foolish questions about their suit, and then withdraw, having passed half an hour in a small, dingy waiting-room, in company with some junior assistant-clerk, and ten minutes with the members of the firm; the business is then over for which the gentleman has come up to London, probably a distance of a hundred and fifty miles. To be sure he goes to the play, and dines at his friend’s club, and has a bachelor’s liberty and bachelor’s recreation for three or four days; and he could not probably plead the desire of such gratifications as a reason to his wife for a trip to London.

Married ladies, when your husbands find they are positively obliged to attend their legal advisers, the nature of the duty to be performed is generally of this description.

Shocking. No, I’m telling you, it had nothing to do with the warden resigning. The chapter’s titled The Warden Resigns, for crying out loud. The warden resigning can’t have been a surprise. But something made a long-ago reader’s tea splash over the edge of the cup and onto the page. Only this page. Was it disbelief? Or recognition? Perhaps a married lady suddenly remembering: I have GOT to get to my lawyer.

#3 There are pages where every line begins with a single quotation mark. Sometimes it goes on for two or three pages. Every single line. Although Trollope was a great lover of punctuation (a semicolon on every page – sometimes as many as six), I don’t think this was what he had in mind. Clearly the typesetter is trying to get my attention. Page 228, with its 30 quotation marks (and 4 semicolons), is a serious poke in the eye to, well, pretty much everyone: government, church hierarchy, and especially journalists. Noted. Thank you. Highlighted by 100 single and seemingly meaningless quotation marks, pages 320-323 contain Mr Septimus Harding’s resignation letters and give you the man’s character in a nutshell. It’s like Cliffs Notes by Typesetters. The whole point of the book in a few pages. So why bother to read the rest?

#4 Because it’s fun, that’s why. Trollope knows people and his characters are memorable. Yes, they have ridiculous names that make me laugh, but that’s the intention. It’s satire. Playfulness with a point.

I did wonder if being an American who knows nothing of 19th century church politics would make the story less accessible or even irrelevant to me. Would I get the jokes? Yes, it’s accessible. It’s written in a realistic style and I didn’t need anyone to explain the archdeacon setting the scene as if he were writing a sermon, locking the door, and pulling Rabelais from a secret drawer. My only question is what else was in that secret drawer. Yes, it’s relevant. People haven’t changed. And yes, I got the jokes. At least I think I did. If not, I was laughing at something or Trollope was laughing at me and either way I don’t really care; it was fun.

God, I love semicolons.