Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Books, and Bookstores

Before Ted and I went out to Fire Island for the week I wanted to get a book for the beach so I hopped on my bike and went over to the Strand Bookstore on 12th Street. I have to go there more often; I used to go to the Barnes and Noble near me on Sixth Avenue but it closed because the rent was too high. Can you imagine rent too high for Barnes and Noble?

Love the Strand. Aisles and aisles of shelves and shelves. Three floors of books, anything you could want, at marked down prices. We went to the Strand when my brother Eric gave a reading there of his first book, Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush. (Available on Amazon.com.) That was great: hearing Eric read from his book and seeing him answer very comfortably questions from the audience, my young brother who I am so proud of. Eric is now working on a second book on the influence bloggers are having on the current presidential election. The book will be out in 2009.

At the Strand I was searching for the letters of Oscar Wilde. Why? Because Truman Capote recommended it, that's why. There is a great collection of Truman Capote's letters called Too Brief a Treat, edited by Gerald Clarke who wrote Capote, the powerful biography of the writer. Too Brief a Treat -- isn't that a gem of a title? It's a phrase that Capote uses to describe a letter from a friend. He was such a beautiful writer. A sad, down-hill end, but a beautiful writer, like my other favorite American writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. They all had a simplicity, a clarity, plus a poetry -- that's great American style -- but they all came to sad ends. In Capote's letters he lists important books to read, and one of them is the letters of Oscar Wilde.

In I go to the miles of aisles at the Strand, and end up in the back corner, in Irish Literature. There is a girl shelving books there and I ask her for help. She's young, wearing little brown glasses and low jeans, hair parted on the side and swung across her forehead Sixties style, a country girl. There is a section on Wilde and we finger through numerous options -- the complete letters, the selected letters, the edited letters, etc. I think I'll take the selected letters -- shorter and easier to carry to the beach.

"I love Wilde," she offers, rather bashfully. "I did my dissertation on Wilde."

I turn my attention to this child.

"My dissertation was about art and life in his work," she says. "I focused mostly on The Picture of Dorian Gray, and also on De Profundis which was the long letter he wrote from prison to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas on the subject of suffering. That was a gorgeous piece of writing. I would hope that it is included in these volumes."

Sometimes in New York City I just stand there with my mouth hanging open.

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