A few years ago, I started reverting to my high-school-senior self every December and awarding yearbook-style superlatives to the best books I read that year in various categories. I fully intend to do that again this year, but it occurred to me today that the rest of the books in my apartment, some of which I’ve owned for decades, have been getting shafted just because they’re old. I’ve grown so used to seeing them every day that I sometimes forget to give them any attention. So today’s post is dedicated to them.
There are somewhere between 900 and 1000 books in this apartment, so doing a “best of” is pretty much impossible. Instead, I’ve picked some more interesting categories for my superlatives. Enjoy.
The mother of one of my college roommates is an art historian, and when I first moved to New York, she started inviting me to these odd get-togethers during which she’d lecture about art history in her living room to a group of very eccentric women. (Example: one of them, upon meeting me for the first time, looked me up and down and then asked, “Are you in LOVE?”) On one of these evening—maybe the third lecture I attended—I arrived and was told that the evening’s talk would be in honor of me. My roommate’s mom settled me down on the couch in front of everyone, then gifted me with three things—a necklace of red beads, this biography of Proust, and a pomegranate. I still have absolutely no idea how any of these items related to the lecture or to me.
I bought this book—a first edition from 1936—at a very strange little children’s used bookstore in Edinburgh. I haven’t read it all the way through, and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get all the way through it if I tried, but it’s really fun to open at random and read a few lines, especially if you do it out loud. Here, I’ll do that for you now: “She spoke earnestly, but her blood rose hot in her veins. Money, always money. Couldn’t a man do wonderfully unheard-of things for his fellow-men without having to be paid for it? This horrible habit of paying for everything took all the joy of giving, of helping, of sacrifice out of life. Would the gipsy man want to be paid for saving her? Somehow it seemed to matter very vitally that he would not.”
I received my copy of Gwinna as a holiday gift from my parents when I was in fourth grade. It’s the first time I remember feeling as if I would be incomplete until I owned a specific book—my teacher had been reading Gwinna aloud to us, and I was head-over-heels in love with it. I was so excited when I realized what the present was that I ripped the wrapping paper too hard and accidentally tore the book jacket almost all the way through. I was inconsolable until my mom took me to the bookstore and bought me a new one.
This is possibly my favorite book ever in the history of books, and to make sure I never have to be away from it for long, I bought a second copy and used it to collage my kitchen wall. It’s the first thing I see when I walk into my apartment. See? (It took a friend and me eight hours to lay all these pictures out and paste them down.)
To be clear, I do not feel guilty for owning this book because I think it’s evil. I feel guilty because I accidentally stole it from the library seven years ago and have yet to give it back. To my credit, I did try to return it at least four times, but the library I worked near at the time didn’t have a book drop, and it was never open. Eventually I just forgot about the book, then found it again years later when I moved. The library has never once sent me a notice demanding that it be returned or that I pay a fine.
There are actually three novellas in this box, and one of them is printed on giant playing cards. The best part is that as long as you read the first card first and the last card last, you can read the other cards in ANY ORDER and the story still makes sense. McSweeney’s, you never fail to fascinate and delight me.
Buying these books once was a great idea—I’ve probably read The Giver ten times, and it’s one of my absolute favorites. But the thing is, when the last book in the series (Son) was released, the whole series was repackaged, and they were just so much prettier than my old, non-matching copies… soooo I bought them all again, just so they’d look nice next to each other on my shelf. I REGRET NOTHING. (They DO look pretty and matchy all together, don’t they?)
This is not actually a book about bondage—it’s a collection of bizarre book titles, such as How to Recognise Leprosy: A Popular Guide and Leathers of Mozambique: An Adventure Story for Boys and Invisible Dick. But that’s not immediately clear from the cover, so I really enjoy leaving it out on the coffee table when people come to my apartment for the first time. I can tell a lot about a person by whether she eyes it judgmentally or snatches it up and goes, “WHOA, what IS that??”