Friday, January 23, 2009

The One that Got Away



About fifteen years ago, I almost bought this book at a used bookstore in New York.  Actually, it wasn't even a bookstore; it was an old brownstone on Greenwich Street (somewhere south of Perry) in the West Village.  Once a month or so, for a couple of hours on Saturday or Sunday, an elderly man would sit on the sidewalk in a deck chair and sell books straight out of his dilapidated garage.  

Late one afternoon, on my way to meet a friend for a drink, I saw the open garage door and stopped in for a browse.  Although the owner tried to keep the space tidy, as the day wore on and people wandered in and out, it all became a bit of a shambles. I remember seeing the Arlen book on top of a hazardly-stacked pile of books and loving the provocative title.  I held it in my hands for a minute or two and leafed through it, but it was getting late and the price was a bit steep for a junior copywriter's salary (I think it was around $8), so I passed on it.

My neighbor never opened his store again.  At least not that I ever knew of.  I passed by his brownstone many times after that, but the garage door always remained locked, piles of books still visible through the small dirty windows.

Michael Arlen


Years later, I read Arlen's masterpiece, "The Green Hat", his tale of an English youthquaker in 1920's London.  The main character, Iris Storm, is the Edie Sedgwick of her day, a Bright Young Thing whose pursuit of wild pleasures cements her reputation as a "shameless, shameful" girl.  I enjoyed it immensely.  But the overriding feeling I had upon finishing it was a mixture of guilt and sadness that I had said no to "Hell!  Said the Duchess."

I've seen the book available since then, but for exorbitant prices that I would never consider buying it for.  At this point, I think my longing goes beyond the book itself.  Maybe it symbolizes my nostalgia for that period of my life in NYC, or perhaps for the fleetingness of time, or opportunities lost. Whatever the reason, I'm sure I'm not alone. 
 
What books have gotten away from you?

11 comments:

Jill said...

I must have read Gone with a Wind 20 times by the time I was 12. When my parent's divorced, my Dad took my copy and my Siamese cat Meshach who I had had since I was a year and a half old. I will never know why.

So Lovely said...

Not exactly in the same vein but David Hicks: Decoration With Fabrics. Was on Ebay - beautiful condition but bidding got out of control and I couldn't justify the cost.

BTW - went to Berkelouw Books. Found a great book for a friend's birthday - 1st edition. Thank you for letting us in on it. I have driven past his store so many times but never stopped before.

Laura said...

I love learning about all of these older books! I feel like since college I've gotten away from anything that wasn't written in the past 20 years. A shameful, shameful state. I will rectify post haste now that I have been inspired!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

So Lovely: So glad you went to Berkelouw! It's great, isn't it? And the owner, Henry, so nice. I'm due back there this week as I keep thinking about the ones I passed up!

Ms. Wis./Each Little World said...

I think of all the Hicks and Baldwin books I borrowed from the public library because I could not afford to buy them. Since then I've shipped home books from various vacation spots and schlepped them with me on trips. I have "must visit" 2nd hand book shops in different cities where family and friends live. And I have a big pile of design and garden books to take to my favorite seller, so someone else will have a bit of serendipity soon.

pve design said...

Oh, this post reminds me of many that have gotten away - so sad. I have a collection of Edward Gorey books that were signed by him, given to me by a dear friend. I still look for more to add to my collection.

Glenda said...

It's funny you say this. I am drawn to pictures of some sort that include pathways or long roads. Nearly every old picture I have is like that. I don't know what it means, but there is a pattern to it for sure.

Your a lucky woman to be able to travel.

Nancy said...

In 1985 (!) I went to Delhi from Lahore, where I was working. In an antique shop I saw a complete photograph album belonging to some Indian royalty -- old photos in black and white, glued to black paper -- dead tigers laid out in front of lines of proud men, Indian royalty & sahibs and mem sahibs in huge cars from the 20s... the dealer wanted Rs. 1500 for the entire album, and it seemed like a lot to me at the time. Sigh.

Pigtown-Design said...

I will keep an eye out for this for you at the Book Thing. They're such a repository of incredible randomness in books, that it might turn up.

Romi said...

To find a book at the best price you might find: www.bookfinder.com helpful. I found the book you are looking for for 24.50
I have no affiliation with this site. I'm a librarian just trying to help.

Anonymous said...

I still remember the copy of Emily Post's Etiquette that I saw in my (then) local used (and completely chaotic: paging hoarders) bookstore in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, back in the early '90s. It was a beautiful blue cloth-bound book, with lovely pen and ink 1920s society bobbed-haired girls starring dreamily into space. . . no doubt dreaming of seating arrangements and calling cards.
I, too, was on a budget and didn't purchase. The store remained opened. (Is it still? Don't know.) But despite return visits, I never saw that book again. Boo hoo.

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