Tuesday, October 03, 2017

`A Nice Little Handy Edition'

Sometimes it feels good to be wrong. On Sept. 28, I confidently wrote: “Houston, the fourth-largest city in the nation, has no first-rate bookstore.” A reader asked: “Have you ever been to Kaboom Books in the Heights?” I had never heard of it and the name didn’t sound promising, but I drove there Sunday afternoon and entered an anachronism -- an authentic, dimly lit, uncute, stocked-to-the-ceiling, eccentrically but rationally organized used-bookshop. I spoke briefly with the owner, John Dillman, who moved his shop ten years ago from New Orleans, after Katrina. I expressed my surprise at his shop’s existence, and he said, “Yeah, well, word of mouth.” I asked if he had in stock any titles by C.H. Sisson. “I think so,” he said, and led me to the poetry section, where we found two copies of Hello, Darkness: The Collected Poems of L. E. Sissman. Wrong poet, good choice. Dillman’s business card reads “Houston’s Least Eponymous Bookstore.”  

For the first time in a long time I felt the hunter-gatherer rush of being in a good bookshop. My senses sharpened. My mouth grew dry. I remained vigilant for the presence of other, bothersome customers. I forced myself not to be distracted by so much bounty. Here’s what I bought, all for about $40.00:

A first edition of Return to Yesterday (1932), one of many memoirs by Ford Madox Ford. Between pages 120 and 121, a previous reader had pressed a four-leaf clover, now brown and diaphanous.

An American first edition of Loving (1949), Henry Green’s best novel. Original price: $3.00.

Max Beerbohm: Selected Prose (1970), edited by Lord David Cecil. Shamefully, I owned no Beerbohm, one of my favorite essayists.

Camp Concentration, a 1988 paperback of Thomas M. Disch’s 1968 novel. Disch was a wonderful poet. Camp Concentration, which I read as a kid when it was first published, is the only readable work of science fiction I'm aware of that can be read without discomfort by an adult.

Cecil includes in his anthology “`How Shall I Word It?’” (1910), in which Beerbohm writes:

“The keeper of the bookstall, seeing me gaze vaguely along his shelves, suggests that I should take `Fen Country Fanny’ or else `The Track of Blood’ and have done with it. Not wishing to hurt his feelings, I refuse these works on the plea that I have read them. Whereon he, divining despite me that I am a superior person, says `Here is a nice little handy edition of More’s `Utopia’ or Carlyle’s `French Revolution,” and again I make some excuse. What pleasure could I get from trying to cope with a masterpiece printed in diminutive grey-ish type on a semitransparent little grey-ish page? I relieve the bookstall of nothing but a newspaper or two.”


Dick Cornflour said...

Out of curiousity, I searched the ABA bookseller directory for bookstores in Houston. The results (https://tinyurl.com/ybnfbfx4) don't look promising, but you might want to try Brazos Bookstore (http://www.brazosbookstore.com/). Maybe you already have.

MMc said...

So glad you got there. I plan to return when I have a little more time. My purchase there was Yvor Winters Selected Poems. I learned of him from you.