A few weeks back I started buying books again.
I was at my local used book store, selling off old books for cash. Some that I no longer wanted were only good for credit, and over multiple trips to get cash and rid myself of unwanted books, I found myself with around $30 of credit at Mr. K’s.
As my latest batch of sell-ables was judged for its worth I would wander the shelves.
The science fiction drew me like a fly to honey, the way it always does. Lovely old paperbacks, yellowing pages, scuffed covers and elderly spines. First I found an old Greg Bear book, Blood Music, one of my favorites. I’ve read it, but I wanted to give it to someone. Who I did not and do not know, but it will find a home someday.
Then a Stephen Baxter. I looked for a rare copy of Crystal Express, but as usual, didn’t find it.
I browsed the children’s books and said hello to my favorites, Green Knowe and Summerland.
Then one day on one trip I found myself in the very back of the store, where the dear old friends of my youth waited. Jack Vance. Sheri Tepper. H.P. Lovecraft. Robert R. McCammon. Michael Moorcock. Gene Wolfe.
Newly and strangely drawn to my old stomping grounds, the mass market paperback fantasy section, I got a Naomi Novik novel, His Majesty’s Dragon, which I described on Twitter as insubstantial but fun: a swift and smart read, four parts Patrick O’Brian and one part Pern. (I still prefer to think of it as an interspecies gay romance.)
I read my dragon book cover to cover, mostly lying in bed. I was reading again. Like a child wobbling around the cul-de-sac on training wheels, I was up and reading.
Books began to call me in the evenings, the way they used to. I was the child who opened my presents on Christmas morning, left them under the tree, and returned IMMEDIATELY to The Hobbit (where I really was at an exciting part).
I remember the day I first asked the librarian if I could check out books from the adult, grown-up section, and was told yes, and looked over to that vast singing field of truth and wonder like an astronaut who’d just been given a ticket to the stars.
As a young woman, the librarians at Pack (my local downtown library, the one with the best selection) knew me by name, and I knew them (Scottie and Sheila). When someone wrote something mean in the margins of a John Crowley book I had loved (Little, Big), I scrawled a defense. (How I hope that penciled conversation is still there in that book. Last time I checked, it was. )
I read on into my thirties, finding fantasy and fiction harder and harder to please me, and the real world taking over as it always does. My tastes changed from Clark Ashton Smith and Tanith Lee to Michael Pollan and Jared Diamond.
It was an evolution. I was becoming.
Or so I thought.
But two weeks ago I began deserting nightly Netflix fun for the book that awaited me in bed, like a lover. I liked my Naomi Novik dragon book very much. So much that I went back to Mr. K’s later, with nothing to sell, and bought all the mass market fantasy paperbacks my yellow credit slip would pay for.
And I realized it wasn’t really an evolution at all when I wandered away from these magnificent and strange old friends. It was only me moving away, the same way you move away from your hometown. And sometimes, come back. And know that you can go anywhere, but here is good for now. Here is good.
Last night, finding my vampire novel good but not engaging me at the moment, I got up from bed and walked over to the bookshelf in my room. A little poking around, and there it was.
My favorite book. Bought solely for the purpose of Having after I found it in an unusual but relatively worthless fancy paperback U.K. first edition at the bookstore in Florida where I discovered Joe R. Lansdale’s writing and bought By Bizarre Hands.
I have kept this book like a treasure for years. Nearly all my books are in the basement in boxes waiting for me to afford proper storage. Not this one.
It was yellowing, with a sticky web of dust I had to rub away. At over 700 pages, it’s a gorgeous monster. A veritable brick of a novel. I put the vampire novel aside.
I’ll finish it. But I know the book I want to read next.