01 February 2009

A Game and a Show in a Bookstore

Last night I met up with Sid and Deena for dinner at Blue Koi and a Barclay Martin Ensemble show at Prospero's Bookstore. After dinner and coffee & reading at Javanaut, we arrived at Prospero's early and Sid had a brilliant idea: a game. Let's split up, find a book that is of particular interest, and report back to one another to share what we found. Ready? Go!

20 minutes later, as the musicians were preparing to play and the crowd was gathering for the show, we shared what we found. Sid, continuing the lively dinner conversation on feminism, reported back with Mary Wollstonecraft's classic A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, originally published 1792. Wollstonecraft (the mother of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein) posed this question in the dedication: "Who made man the exclusive judge, if woman partake with him the gift of reason?" Deena had discovered Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim by Anton Gill, 2001, with a great photo of Peggy on the cover, staring out cheekily through her exceedingly funky sunglasses and hosting three fluffy dogs on her lap. The inside of the dust jacket reads "Mrs. Guggenheim, how many husbands have you had?" she was once asked. "D'you mean my own, or other people's?"

I cheated on the game and came back with two books. The first was Huxford's Old Book Value Guide: 25,000 Listings of Old Books with Current Values, 1997, which I chose for its ironic qualities. This Old Book Value Guide is simply a list of books (not all collectible, per se) and their values - everything from $12 to $150 and beyond. But by now this Old Book Value Guide is an old book itself and since all the data in it is old, it's lost its value. It is not a book that was meant to go up in value. The book cost $19.95 in 1997, though it was evidently purchased at Borders for $17.95. Now it is on a shelf in a used bookstore with a price tag of $7. And what's more: if you wanted to know the truly current values of old books now, you would look, not for a book, but for a website. Which makes you wonder about the value of old books.

My second book, which I picked up to keep entertained since the Old Book Value Guide was such dry reading, was The Perfumed Garden of the Shaykh Nefzawi, a middle eastern manual on sex, written in the 16th century, translated by Sir Richard Burton and published in 1964. It treats its subject matter practically and frankly; in its own way, it was quite dry as well and full of hilarious euphemisms. It made for interesting reading. In 1964, The Perfumed Garden cost $5 but is now valued at $7.50 at Prospero's. It is not, by the way, listed in the Old Book Value Guide.

The music started and we enjoyed the show, deciding afterwards that a used bookstore is, indeed, the perfect place to attend a concert; a used bookstore with creaking wooden floors, hammered tin ceiling, and one suspicious, wobbly stack of books that reached from that floor to that ceiling. The Barclay Martin Ensemble is wonderful anyway - they were even better surrounded by books.

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