24 February 2010

I rescued a book from the second-hand shop

– a book written by a friend who used to live here in Brussels. It was her second book. I couldn't bear to leave it on the shelves of the Pêle-Mêle – it just didn't seem right. I had read that book from its earliest drafts, had watched it grow and form. I slid it off the shelf, admiring the cover (it is a great cover), thinking about all of the time and effort it took to make that book work. This must also be the case of many other books, although we never realize it, because the finished product – if it's worth it's salt – doesn't show any of that effort. This copy was in good condition and the price marked faintly in pencil in the upper right hand corner of the first page. €2. I had always meant to buy a copy of this book, but never did in that way I don't manage to do a lot of things, and often regret it. I was glad to have found it. Otherwise I might not have read it again. A few years have passed and I was able to read it now with fresh perspective. It's a much better book than my friend got credit for, I think. I wonder how many good books get ... well, not really lost but sort of passed over, getting a couple of reviews when they are first published (if they are lucky) and then relying on – what? – an attractive cover or absorbing blurb and then word of mouth to sustain them? I don't know. And what happens when the book is a few years old, and it has to compete with each year's newer titles? I don't know how that works, either.

My friend's book is at heart a haunting book. Haunting, and haunted, and real and ambitious in its setting (Moscow, in the time of perestroika). It is also, unusually, uplifting. By that I mean both (1) in a way that books often are not and (2) in that you don't expect it. It's the kind of book that, if I had seen it in the second-hand shop and not known it, I would have considered it a prize find. By the way, it is called If Only You Knew. By Alice Jolly.

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