Last week Half Price Books and Records held its annual Memorial Day 20% off sale, so I made the rounds to (almost) all of their stores in the Pittsburgh area. It's a weakness - buying books, and if I had any business savvy, I'd open a store myself - just so I could spend my days talking about writers and convincing people to read the ones I love.
Anyway, one of my finds was a biography of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch. The cover boasts a cool oil painting of Ms. O'Connor flanked by a pair of peacock feathers like blue eyes with overgrown green lashes. I found it in the fiction section, however, which is a pet peeve of mine. Much as I love Half-Price Books, they are a bit lazy when it comes to shelving. If it were my store, I'd have a vast section of local authors prominently displayed, and nonfiction would never be housed next to fiction. None the less, it was a great find, hardback and in mint condition. AND - it's inscribed. Here's what it says, in lovely script, I might add:
"For Sarah...Love Mom & Dad 2009 HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"
Now, if by chance, Sarah, you happen to be reading this, I'm sorry for exposing your secret. But shame on you. Your parents dedicated this book to you, and it doesn't even look like you read it. Maybe you don't care for Flannery O'Connor. Maybe, like me, you aren't a big fan of birds - but come on! A dedicated book is priceless. What did you get for it? Five bucks? Ten on the outside? We have precious little to hold onto when our loved ones die, and handwriting has become a rarity. Hopefully, your parents are alive and well. And Heaven forbid anything happened to you which resulted in someone else having to sell this book on your behalf. But regardless of the reasoning behind the sale, it breaks my heart a little.
I have a book called Two Bridgets by Cynthia Hathaway. It was written in 1944 and purchased the following Christmas for a girl named Kathleen by two women named Joanne and Sara. Thirty-two years later, my great-grandmother bought it for me. Her inscription is just below theirs:
"To Bridgette Bernice on her Second Birthday
March 17, 1977
From her Great-Grandmother, Mary Bernice Campbell."
Grandma Campbell died in 1993, but I have her words right here next to me.
What will become of these treasures if E-Readers replace real books? I have many books signed by authors as well. Just yesterday my dear friend Lorraine sent me a personalized copy of Edna O'Briens' new collection Saints and Sinners. Ms. O'Brien's son, Carlo Gebler, was one of my mentors while studying for my MFA in Ireland. So it was an amazing treat to read what she wrote following an evening at Symphony Space in NYC:
"For Bridgette, from Carlo's mother, some stories...Edna OB"
I have been known to go a little overboard with the hero worship, so I won't gush too much about the less than six degrees of separation between me and this incredibly accomplished woman. (I've had tea with her son for pity's sake!) And, truly, it is Lorraine that I am in awe of - for her thoughtfulness. For standing in what must have been a hellish line to secure this special book for me - a book which I will never sell. Even if the Nook police come knocking at the door with nunchucks.