Friday, February 20, 2009

Dead books, tall tales

Buying used books has its own appeal. This generally lies in prowling through musty aisles and rifling through stacks of used books, usually in a nondescript shop in one of the quirkier neighborhoods of Seattle - Fremont, the University area or Capitol Hill. In Seattle, this usually also involves stepping over a cat or two.

The books themselves have their own stories to tell. I prefer "clean" books with no obvious signs of previous ownership, but the occasional random book with blemishes slips through. These can get interesting though.

My copy of The Money Game by Adam Smith has this on the inside title page:

XMas 1994

_____ & _______:

This year's investment classic from your parents (in-law). Read and prosper.

____ & _______

Wise words indeed - "Read and prosper".

When I bought The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Qureishi, I paid little attention to the fact that it was published by Penguin Italia. "Maybe it's an import". However, when I started reading it, out popped a receipt. 

Gelateria Brivido

Via Dei Pellegrini 1-3


It's a bill for 2500 Liras (that's 1.29 Euros as the receipt helpfully says). It's dated the 14th of September 2000 - that's 14-09-00 for you dd/ mm/ yy'ers. The web tells me that the Lira ceased being legal tender in 2002, replaced completely by the Euro.

It makes me think. What was I doing on the 14th of September 2000? It was a Thursday, meaning I was probably in college in India attending some kind of class or another.

This book's provenance just went from humdrum Barnes & Noble / Amazon to something altogether exotic. How did it end up in a used book store in Seattle? Was it an Italian student who bought it there, eventually ending up  in Seattle and selling the book while leaving? Or more likely, someone from Seattle on a summer trip to Europe? I can see him or her in Europe, taking in the sights of an altogether beautiful and alien continent, reading about an alien adjusting to a new and exciting world.

Dead books tell tall tales.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


It was the regular morning commute. He took a seat he generally didn't prefer - the first seat in the rear of the articulated bus next to the "bellows". It was invariably noisy there, distracting him from his music and reading.

She got on at the next stop. Cute. Black curly hair. She was wearing those glasses Tina Fey made famously cool on 30 Rock. Come to think of it, she looked a bit like Tina Fey. She sat on a cross seat on the opposite side from his. As the bus lurched its way onto the highway, she got up and sat next to him. She smelled of fresh citrus.

It was as if his brain had just shifted from cruise control to interstellar overdrive. "Is my hair OK?" "Does my breath smell?" "I think I forgot to put on deodorant in the morning." "What book is she reading?" "I think I should talk to her."

In a minute she noticed someone in the front of the bus she knew. Waves were exchanged. Space was found next to this friend. Next thing he knew, she was gone.

This piece was inspired by This American Life's episode 20 acts in 60 minutes. I was trying to write a piece that could be narrated on air, Ira Glass-style within two minutes. This piece is shorter, but, hey, the girl did leave kinda soon.