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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Treasure Hunting

I'm not back from my hiatus because life is better. It isn't. It's still stressful and crazy and nothing is in order yet.

But I'm back because I need to write.

Several things have inspired me lately. It's been hard to choose which one to do first. Be aware that there will be some changes coming to my blog - things I haven't done here before because I felt like they were something that other bloggers did - not me. But I can't ignore anymore that these things are important to me. I'm sort of rambling at the moment, but it will make sense later.

Anyway, the inspiration that hit me to write again came from this book:

This little inscription was written inside the front cover:

One of my favorite things in the world is unlimited time to search through books in a used bookstore. I call it "Treasure Hunting." Whenever I had a little money to burn, one of the first things I always thought about doing was adding to my ever-growing book collection. My favorite used bookstore back home had a separate room just for the classics. I could spend HOURS in there, going shelf by shelf looking to see what treasures I can find that weren't there the last time I had looked.

One of my favorite treasures is this one:

You can see how old it is just from the cover. On a whim, my ex and I decided to take a random day off together to go explore a small town near us. We stumbled across a little antique store. I spotted a shelf of old books and decided to go check it out. I was STUNNED when I saw this book on the shelf! I felt like the price was out of our budget, but no matter how I tried, I couldn't bear to put it back. I couldn't let this book sit, unloved, on that shelf for who knows how many years. I had to have it. To my ex's credit, he saw how much it meant to me, and he bought it for me. He even wrote an inscription inside it to mark the day we bought it and that it was his gift to me.

This is what it was:

If you're not familiar with this book, it's an extremely old historical record of the building of Rome. To give you an idea of it's age, Plutarch died around 120 A.D. I became familiar with it from watching Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It's first mentioned when Millie and Adam have just been married and she's telling him about the things she has brought with her to start their new life together. She has some seeds and 2 books - Plutarch's Lives and the Bible. She tells Adam that her father taught her to read from those books, and she hopes to teach their future children the same way. Later, in one of my favorite scenes, Adam tells the boys about the "Sobbing Women" - the history of the Sabine women in ancient Roman history. They all get caught up in the idea, and Adam leads the boys into town where they kidnap the girls they love in order to take them back into the mountains with them. (They create an avalanche to close the pass between them and the townspeople and only THEN realize they forgot to bring a preacher to perform their marriages. Oops!)

Obviously, the book isn't from as far back as when Plutarch first wrote it, but as you can tell, it is a REALLY old copy. This is my very favorite part of the book:

1894. This book is almost 120 years old!

One day, I dream of having my very own library, complete with an amazing giant wing chair* to sit and read for hours. My library would look something like this one:

I hope to build the shelves to my own specifications - with special shelves perfectly sized for complete series and different sections for different genres. When that happens, my precious copy of Plutarch's Lives will have its very own shelf.

I could go to newer bookstores and buy brand new, pristine copies of old books. I do from time to time if I want something specific, but there is just something about used books. For one thing, they're usually really cheap. Where brand new books run anywhere from 6 or 7 dollars (or more!) for a new paperback, hardbacks can cost so much more! But at a used bookstore, I've bought books for a few dollars, or sometimes much less than that! But the other thing about used books is they have HISTORY. Someone else read them, passed them to their friends or even down through their posterity! They were loved and treasured. I've always loved the smell of old books - the smell of history.

The inscription in the front cover of my copy of Under the Tuscan Sun reads "Phyllis didn't like Patty either." See? History! Who was Phyllis? Who wrote the inscription? Apparently someone passed this book on to someone else and felt the need to add that little detail of mutual dislike for the character of Patty in the book (who is a real person, by the way). Did someone read it as part of their book club? Did someone watch the movie, buy the book and then pass it around among their friends? Who knows? But it shows the book has it's very own history - totally different from the history of the books that passed off the printing line with it.

Here's another one of my recent discovered treasures:

A copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne - printed in 1946.

It's missing its dust jacket and the front cover is barely holding on, but it has this beautiful picture on the inside:

Slightly changing subjects, let's return to Under the Tuscan Sun.

I've never been much of a fan of contemporary literature. I've always preferred the classics - the stories that have stood the test of time. But over the last few years, I've started to open up a little to newer novels. Time and time again, I've fallen in love with a movie and discovered later that it was based on a book.

That poses a challenge.

With the classics, when they turn them into movies, they're sort of forced to stick to the story the way it is. Details will change from time to time, but for the most part, the plot matches the books that people have known and loved for generations.

But with newer novels, the screenwriters and directors take MUCH more liberties with the stories.

It is true that the book is almost always better than the movie, but when you've known and loved the movie long before reading the book, sometimes the changes are just too much to deal with.

Like these two:

I ADORE both of these movies. I read the books after having watched the movies for years. As a hard-core book lover, I'm a little ashamed to say I prefer the movies to the books. After the romance and charm (not to mention amazing actors) of The Notebook, the book is dry and seriously lacking in details. And Chocolat. The movie is enchanting and magical. But the difference in characters between the book and the movie were too much for me. The adorably naive preacher in the movie doesn't even exist in the book! It's kind of tragic!

I know that if I'd read the books before seeing the movies, I might have hated the movies for the changes. In the order that I experienced them, these two books are currently sitting in my "I don't need to read these ever again pile."

Under the Tuscan Sun falls into the category of books I didn't discover existed before falling in love with the movie. I was NOT prepared for the fact that most of the plot of the movie doesn't even EXIST in the book! It was quite a shock. So much so that I had to stop reading the book and switch to something else. I know I'll give it another chance someday. One day, I'll be able to separate it in my mind from the movie and be able to judge it on its own merits as a book.

Is Hollywood wrong to change the story in order to sell movies? Most of the time, I would say yes. But there are cases when the screenwriters and directors and actors can turn an ordinary book into a worthwhile and amazing movie. The tongue-in-cheek saying "You can't judge a book by its movie" swings both ways.

*When I was in college, I had an hour between one of my agriculture classes and my history class. My history class was in one of the oldest buildings on campus. It was too far from my dorm to justify going home between those classes, so I would head to that old building to find a comfy spot to wait. The offices of the main college administrators encircled a large sitting room inside that building. At the far end of the room was a pair of very large floral wing chairs. They were the most comfortable chairs I think I've ever sat in. I loved to curl up in one of those giant chairs and let it sort of swallow me. I even napped in them from time to time. I used to joke that when I left school, I was going to steal one of those chairs to take home. Since I prefer NOT to spend time in jail, I've had to settle for the idea of just finding a similar chair one day.


B. said...

I feel the same way about all of this! I'm jealous of your really neat old copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea! I love the front cover of that.

I have a few books printed in the 1940's. I have 1 kid's book that was printed in 1890-something (it's upstairs and I don't feel like checking), and 2 really old looking books that do not even have a print date listed in them (on purpose to drive me crazy I think).