Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Story of Books

During my trip to London in July, there were three books that I had wanted to get. They were Muse by Jonathan Galassi, Why Grow Up by Susan Neiman click and A Work in Progress  by Connor Franta.  When I entered the London Review Bookshop, I immediately spotted Muse and Why Grow Up  which were on display on top of  the table in front of the cashiers. On the last day of my stay in London, I bought Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee click and I ended up reading it before reading the non-fiction by Susan Neiman. Muse has taken me longer time than it should to finish reading  as I had not been able to give my undivided attention to it. Muse is a roman à clef   by an author who had a career in the publishing industry. Jonathan Galassi is the president and publisher of Farrar, Strass and Giroux. The novel is set against the backdrop ‘when men were men, women were women and books were books, with glued or even sewn bindings, cloth or paper covers , with beautiful or not –so-beautiful jackets and a musty, dusty, wonderful smell; when books furnished many a room, and their contents, the magic words, their poetry and prose , were liquor , perfume, sex, and glory to their devotees. These loyal readers were never many but they were always engaged , always audible and visible, alive to the romance of reading. Perhaps they still exist underground somewhere, bidden fanatics of the cult of the printed word….’ The story ends with the changing landscape of the traditional book trade when the books become accessible on electronic devices .  In the story, there is Ida Perkins, a poet who is made to be larger than life. The protagonist is Paul Dukach the heir apparent at Purcell & Stern, one of the last independent publishing houses in New York. He learns the ins and outs of the book world from his boss, Homer Stern and also Sterling Wainwright, Homer’s biggest rival who happens to be cousin, lover and publisher of Ida.

Paul is the youngest son and the bookworm in the family. He has a football star father and  three older brothers‘ all obsessed if only moderately talented athletes vying for the largely withheld approval of their college football star father, now the local district court judge.’

As an introverted teenager desperate to escape from the rah-rah bell jar of Team Dukach, Paul had had one saving grace : Pages, the rambling, heavily stocked bookstore housed in an old brick office building on Hattersville’s run-down town square where he worked afternoons and Saturdays all through high school.  Morgan Dickerman, Pages’ owner, was  a woman of kindess and discernment, statuesque if not conventionally pretty, with prematurely graying hair; a long , elegant neck; and an assured stylishness that stood out in Hattersville , which still felt stuck in the Eisenhower era.’

Morgan is the bookseller  who first introduces  Ida Perkin’s poetry to Paul and since then Paul has read every single one of Ida’s work and eventually he meets the elusive poet who entrusts  him with the manuscript that  changes all of their lives forever.

Galassi writes,

Morgan was an extremely canny bookseller who’d outsmarted the chains by making Pages the heart and soul of the community in and around Hattersville. She had local and visiting authors give readings weekly; she had children’s hours on Saturdays; she was the den mother to a hundred book groups; she supplied books for events at Hattersville State and Embryon, the local private college. Besides , she was Morgan Dickerman, and people naturally gravitated to her the way Paul had (he wasn’t self-deluding enough to believe he was her only protégé , though he liked to flatter himself that he was still Number One.) So Pages was still doing all right. But some of Morgan’s perhaps less talented or less energetic colleagues were not faring nearly as well. The chain store across the square had gone out of business, too, which , paradoxically, hadn’t helped matters at Pages.’ 

Pages sounds like a delightful bookstore  to be spending Saturday afternoons . When I read Muse, I think of jazz, books and Venice.

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