#112, 21 January 2008

A Princely Sum

Part I

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What the deuce, one might ask is the decrepit object we see, pictured below, looking like some mummified relic retrieved from Tut's mausoleum? This object - like some chunk of dark debris cast up on a shoreline by the waves, its salt-soaked hide baked and cured by the sun, its innards invaded by sand fleas? Can it be a book? Haw. It can. Indeed it is. Yes a precious book ... cherished, even. But valuable? You be the judge.

It was many years ago, long before many of you youngsters were even born. Antediluvian times ... harrumph ... they were not so antediluvian to us then ... they were times of bookish adventures and hopeful investment. September it was when I and a colleague were out booking.

I remember it well. William Deckle was a colleague, and friend, although our friendship might have looked quite adversarial to any casual observer. We frequently went out booking together across the land, foraging, as it were, through the nooks and crannies of the landscape for goodies. Our tastes were so different we were rarely in competition. An unkind person would have said it was because our purses were so different. Harrumph.

Our temperaments were different. I am - I do not hide it - others insist on it - I am a curmudgeon, a crusty generalist, a populist, if you will, when it comes to books and paper. Willie was an ... haw! How shall I say it without seeming to denigrate the memory of a close friend? Willie was an elitist. Yes Elite ... not in any font-ish sort of way, and he only rarely put on a snob's nose in company, but Willie was obsessed with what he called The Best. To his very inner depths Deckle was a Royalist - at least when it came to books.

No tawdry paperbacks for Willie. No cheap sensationalist dime novels. No superstitious almanacs. No moldy old journals. Willie's nose was attuned to the smell of leather, the glint of gold, the patina of vellum. He could not resist a book cradled in velvet, set on display like some sort of silent siren. The covers of a beautifully bound book were Willie's Symplegades, and once he had touched the binding or stuck his nose into such an enticing book - to smell the leather, to stroke the snowy white pages, to feel the impress of the type - the book's siren song would cloud all reason and its covers slam shut on his purse like Scylla and Charybdis ... a more willing victim there never was. If a bookshop smelled like a tannery, then Willie Deckle would spend hours therein and his purse would be appreciably lighter upon exiting.

As I said, it was September - balmy, breezy fall weather perfect for booking; so the two of us set out in Willie's 1905 Rambler. Willie was proud of the car's automatic ignition and loved the fact that the throttle was connected to the steering wheel. He was often heard to say, if a Rambler was good enough for President Teddy Roosevelt it was good enough for William Deckle. Haw. This is all well and fine for those who care about such things. Even I can admit it was a fine vehicle.

We drove into a town .... some small, tony commercial village in the Hudson valley with a variety of shops on the main street. Immediately Willie spotted the sign indicating an antiquarian book shop, housed in an elegant, Federalist style building.

"There you go, Booknoodle, what did I say? A fine establishment! Sable and Savory only sell the finest books. Oh, this is going to be so much fun! Why just a couple of months ago I received their catalog. I must have spent over $2,000 dollars just from that one mailing." He rubbed his hands together in eager anticipation. I swear - William Deckle is the only person outside a drama that I ever saw doing that.

"Harrumph. Please, spare me the details," said I, heading off what could entail a lengthy description of every bit of minutia concerning the books purchased.

"Why, you're just jealous, old boy!"

At that moment I espied a shop down a ways on the opposite side of the street. That building needed a coat of paint. The windows were grimy and one could not see within. This shop had a sign worn with age - faded letters swinging from a rusted iron frame. I could make out the words: Shovel and Pile Anteeks & Junke.

"Look here, Deckle, I'm going down to that junk shop to poke around."

"What on earth do you think you will find there? Why they can't even spell. What ignorance to put up such a sign. I can't think why the town allows a building to remain in such seedy condition. Why do you insist on poking around in these grimy places? You always come out covered with dust. And I shan't have you soiling the covers of my automobile seats. Come along to Sable and Savory with me. That's where the real treasures are.

"Blast your seat covers. I intend to have a look around. You go to Sable and Savory and I'll go to Shovel and Pile. I just feel there's something to be found. We'll meet back here."

"Ha! All that you'll find are rags and a bone, flyspecks and mouse droppings!"

"You always say that and I always prove you mistaken."

"Nonsense. I seek and find the real books. You always come up with these objects that are mistaken for books, Booknoodle. Ha, ha, ha."


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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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