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Vintage Books: Part I February 15, 2009

Posted by jeffclef in ulysses, used books.
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Ulysses in all its paperback glory

Ulysses in all its paperback glory

I wish my parents had read more. Actually, that’s a pretty heartless thing to say given that my father came to this country as a Vietnam war refugee. With barely a word of English and with barely a cent in their pockets, my parents had larger problems on their minds than literature. But when you are the first generation son, who has discovered for himself that his future is in tracing books to their textual and cultural sources, how can you wish any differently?

Today, the classics—the classics of all things—are made so cheaply, that they yellow or fall apart within a year. The most egregious case I’ve come across has to be the Gabler edition of Ulysses, an edition which purports to be authoritative, but whose integrity is undermined by its ramshackle construction. Ulysses is a literary liner that should have never ventured into the perilous waters of paperback fiction, but because it did, I have a poorly glued edition that sheds pages like a cat sheds hair. Fortunately, I found some time ago a 1960 edition by Modern Library. I want to say it was dedicated to a girl named Molly, but that would be stretching the truth. Wherever you are Mel, I have your book.

The story of this grad student is that of the kid who goes to a candy store, only to discover that the lollipops have already been licked and the chocolate bars gnawed. Doesn’t mean, however, that the candy is bad. I’ve rummaged through enough used-book stores to know now that you will never find that perfect artifact. There’s always going to be some flaw, or rather, mark of character: clipped dust jackets, dented boards, imperfectly aligned book plates, shelf wear, remainder marks, and yes, dedications you wished you had never read. To be continued…

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