9 August 98
more excellent manuscript on which to gag the world?
-- Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
I discovered Annie Dillard's book in the remaindered bins of… what the deuce is the name of that store? It's still there, in Worcester, on Chandler Street, it was an old machine shop and you could smell the machine oil and the metal filings, so much so that some days, it would give me a headache as I pored over bin after bin, shelf after shelf of books of all sorts and kinds… the name eludes me. It was a wonderful place to find clean, cheap copies of books. It's still there, too, as far as I know, but I don't go there anymore. It went all upscale and café, and there were no more real bargains to be had.
Bru and I used to go book shopping often-- most weekends. Rainy days, or snowy, or just plain dull, we'd go looking for books-- used or remaindered books. Clean hardcover copies of overlooked gems that less discerning or less patient or less determined readers had failed to discover in the jumble of bins, or the miles of disorganized shelves. I have memories of many wonderful stores and places that sold books-- wherever we lived or visited, we knew them all. I don't believe there was ever a time we went into a bookstore or a bazaar or library booksale that we emerged empty handed… we amassed an amazing collection… and we read them all-- I still haven't shelves for them all in this house-- Bru, I hope your new house has a library-- one the size of Tom Jefferson's at Monticello!
I was writing my first novel when I found Annie Dillard's book in that remainder bin in Worcester. I picked it up because of the title; I hadn't a notion of who the author might be. But, when I read the excerpts on the back cover, I realized I had found a book about writing by real, genuine, dyed-in-the-wool writer. At last! Someone who understood exactly what I was going through!
That was in 1989-- the year Annie Dillard's book was published. A first edition of an excellent book by a Pulitzer Prize winning author, remaindered almost immediately upon publication. But I'm glad it was there, in that bin, on that day, because I have read it often, sought solace in it time and again. It has helped me keep writing, even as it has made me wonder: If books like this are in the remainder bin, what chance have books like mine? Who do I think I am that I have the right to inflict a book of mine upon the gagging world?
My only excuse is this: I don't write because I want to; I do it because I must. (And in case you're wondering: I'm not going to shoot myself. Not today, anyway.)
If you love books and reading, you will enjoy 84 Charing Cross
Road by Helene Hanff.
It's a delightful book-- and movie starring Anne Bancroft and
Anthony Hopkins-- and there's a stage play, too!
And if, like Ms. Hanff, you are a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, you might want to take a look at a book titled Wait Till Next Year by another Pulitzer Prize winning author, Doris Kearns Goodwin.
And for the most literate baseball on the net, remember to visit
1 Sept 98: I have received word from The Cosmic Baseball Association that Helene, Annie, and Doris all may be offered rookie positions next season. Cool.
The Madwoman's Journal Index of Entries.