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Bookmarks

A friend of mine recommended that I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, so when I saw a copy in the thrift store this morning, I made certain to add it to my cart.  Then, as I was entering it into my catalogue just moments ago, I found one of those bookmarks that amuse me in used books, only in this case it was not left behind in forgetfulness.  It was a large sticky note, carefully affixed to the title page, white with stylized images of an owl in the upper left corner and a flower in the bottom right, and it was clearly directed to the book’s next owner.

“Starts well,” the note reads.  “Don’t be fooled.  Grinds to a crawl in the middle and limps on for way too long.  Told by an unbelievable and uninteresting late-arriving character.”

I have not yet read even the first sentence of the book, so I have no basis for an opinion on how accurate this guerrilla review might be, but I am delighted to know that there is someone out there who is passionate enough about reading to include such a review when giving books away.  It raises my hopes for humanity.

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I recently bought a used copy of Ivan Illich’s Gender, and it had a slip of pink paper as a bookmark that contained this wonderful list:

1. Call Mom

2. Natural to be afraid

3. Card from Faith Church

I am not sure whether the items are meant to relate to one another, but there is a sort of poetry about them.  I am happy they were left for me.

As I posted earlier this evening, I purchased a number of books from used booksellers this weekend, including a beautiful edition of Francois Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, translated by Jacques LeClercq, illustrated by Lynd Ward, and published by Heritage Press. When I went to catalogue the volume a few moments ago, I discovered that it had belonged to the library of one Fred Kerner, and when I searched this name, I discovered that he had been a publisher, an author, and a journalist in Toronto, recently deceased as of December 24th, 2011. Though I had not known his name before, I know it now, and I will now keep a sliver of his memory in my library.

Here, as promised, is the next chapter of Lindy in very short order, at least for me. I cannot promise that the next one will follow quite as quickly, but anything is possible. As always, those who are new to the story can find the beginning at Chapter One.

Chapter Eleven:
In Which Lindy Crosses the Great River

The morning of her journey did not go quite as Lindy had planned.  She dressed as quickly as she could, putting on the clothes that she had laid out the night before and washing her face in the was basin, and then tried to travel to the kitchen to meet the others, only to find that she was unable to get anywhere at all.  She tried going through the attic hatch to see if that would help, and she tried traveling to other places like the library and the great hall, but no matter what she tried, she stayed right where she was.

She thought at first that this was her own fault, that she had somehow lost the knack of traveling that she had only learned so recently, but the more she tried, the more she felt that she was doing everything as she should, and she began to wonder whether the house itself was keeping her trapped where she was. So after a few more minutes of trying and failing, she gave up and decided just to walk to the kitchen, assuming that she could somehow find her way and assuming that the house had not locked all the doors as well.

The attic hatch opened onto a short and narrow hallway that was lit only by a small window on one side.  The door at the other end was faded and chipped, so that Lindy could see its many layers of paint, a light cream colour over yellow over white over pale green.  The brass handle, however, was clean and brightly polished and heavily made with an ornately fashioned lock.  Lindy turned the handle and pulled, but she knew even before she tried that it would be locked, and she was sure now that it was The Crofts that was keeping her from the kitchen, but she also remembered what Penates had said about using her will when talking with the house, and she decided that she needed to say something in as firm and as adult a way as she could.

“Okay,” she said, not so loudly as to yell but loudly enough to show that she was not frightened, “I know it’s you, Crofts.  I know you don’t want me to go, but I have to.”

“You have no idea what you’re doing!” The Crofts shouted.  The sensation of the house was suddenly so strong in Lindy’s mind that she stumbled back against the wall, but she was determined not to let it bully her.

“Stop yelling at me,” she said, trying every hard to keep her voice strong and even, and trying also to use her will to calm The Crofts.

“You’re will is nothing compared to mine, girl,” the house spat back, but it had already softened its tone somewhat, and Lindy felt more confident again.

“I know you don’t think I can be a Queen or a Keeper,” she said, “and I know it seems crazy to go closer to Khurshid, but I have to.  My dream said so.  And Alisdair said that sometimes you have to make choices, and nobody can make them for you, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m making my choice.  If you don’t let me go, I’ll go myself, even if I have to start climbing out the window.”

The house seemed to shudder or tremble in Lindy’s mind.  “You will lose the crown to Khurshid,” it said, more softly now. “You’re not strong enough to resist him.  I beg you.  Don’t go.  For all our sakes.”  It had quietened almost to a whisper now, pleading rather than demanding.

Lindy felt a sudden sympathy for the house, but her vision had been so clear, and everyone else had been so supportive of her, and she had no choice now but to go on.  “I won’t fail you, Crofts,” she said, letting her own voice soften as well.  “Just let me go.  I’ll show you that this is the right thing to do.  I promise.”

There was a long silence, so long that Lindy wondered whether the house would ever answer at all, but then there was a sound like a sigh in her mind, and The Crofts spoke at last.  “Do what you will.  I will no longer prevent you.  But when this ends in ruin, remember that I forewarned you.” Then, in the next moment, Lindy found herself standing in the kitchen.

Everything seemed to be moving in every direction there, and nobody bothered to ask Lindy why she was late.  She was made to eat a heavy breakfast of eggs and bacon and beans and toast and coffee, which Lindy had never tried before, and then she was helping Cleanna distribute everything between the three packs, the biggest for Moe and the smallest for Lindy herself, and at last Moe was helping her on with her pack, and Penates was giving Moe some final instructions, and all the others were saying goodbye.  Even Clinton offered Lindy his hand, though he refrained from giving her a hug, as some of the others did.

The goodbyes took rather longer than anyone thought. and the sun was quite high when Lindy and Moe and Cleanna passed out at last through the cloak room and the side door where Lindy had first come into the house, how many days ago she could not quite remember. The sun had already dried the grass, and the sky was clear and blue, and a warming spring breeze was rustling over everything, and Lindy felt better almost right away.

The path from the side door ran alongside the house until it reached the cobblestones of the driveway that led onto the main road toward the bridge. The road had once been cobbled too, Lindy saw, because the smooth tops of cobblestones were showing here and there, especially along the wheel ruts, but a layer of earth had now covered most of it, and there was mud in all of the low lying places where the spring rain had made puddles that were only just now drying.

Each step into the spring morning seemed to Lindy another step away from her worries, and she began to skip a little, hopping from one cobble to another when there were two close enough together. Cleanna must have been feeling the same because she suddenly flung her arms wide and took a hop and a leap and then began to fly, her shawl dissolving into a beating of brown wings. Lindy watched her circle ever higher into the air and wished that she could do the same, to meet the sun part way on its long journey to the earth.

It was only when they came over a small rise in the road and the trees ahead parted enough for Lindy to see the bridge that she remembered just how dangerous a thing she was about to do. The sun did not shine any less brightly, and the breeze did nor blow any less warmly, but Lindy felt colder anyway, and her stomach began to ache like when she was sick with the flu. She looked to Moe and saw that he had changed into his monstrous form, his pack becoming a grotesque hump on his shoulders, and Cleanna had returned to the ground now too, standing in her human form and looking very grim.

None of the three said anything, but they all paused together, and they looked down to the valley and the river and the bridge. There were no trees within a long distance of the river on either side, as if the forest was afraid to come too close to it. There were instead long marsh grasses and bullrushes, still young and green, and here and there glimpses of purple flags testing the new spring warmth.

They turned down the hill toward the river, and the road became ever more muddy and overgrown the closer they came to the bridge, but even from a distance the bridge itself looked as sound and unblemished as if it had only just been built. There was nothing very fancy about it, just wide blocks of very plain stone, smooth and closely-fitted, without carving or decoration, but it dominated their view more and more the closer they came to it, and they all paused again when they reached the foot of the bridge, where the muddy and half-buried cobbles met the crisp smoothness of the bridge.

“You’ll need to lead us into the bridge, Miss Lindy,” said Moe at last,”seeing as you’re the Keeper. We’re under your protection from here on.”

Lindy sighed. She had no idea how she could protect anyone from anything, and she was not even really sure what it was that they were facing over there in the forest across the bridge, but there was no use going back now. She took a step forward, felt the hardness of the bridge on her foot, and then she began to shiver just a little, as if she had come out of a nice warm lake into a cool breeze. Then the feeling passed, and she stepped forward again, and she felt quite a lot braver.  The smoothness of the bridge felt good beneath her feet after the ruts and cobbles of the path, and the breeze grew harder and cooler and cleaner as she climbed the broad curve of the bridge. She did not for a moment forget the danger of what she was doing or lose the ache in her stomach, but she felt a little bit like she had felt when she first saw the cottages, as if she was exactly where she belonged, no matter how frightened she might be.

The bridge was longer than it looked, and it reached much higher above the river than Lindy expected, curving upward like a great stone hill, so it was only when the began to descend the other side that Lindy saw the figure approaching the bridge from the forest.  He was a tall man, golden-haired and lithely muscled and naked, walking toward them with his arms casually swinging at his sides, as if he had merely been taking a walk and happened upon them quite accidentally. The only sign that he had even seen them was that his eyes were looking fixedly toward where they stood on the bridge, never looking to the left or the right, even as he walked along the overgrown road.

Lindy wondered for a moment whether she should stop on the bridge and wait for the man to come to her, but she knew somehow that this was the wrong thing to do, so she kept walking along the bridge, downward now, as firmly and bravely as she could. The slope of the bridge hurried her feet, and the man’s ambling pace was much faster than it looked, so they were approaching each other very quickly, and Lindy felt a strange mixture of fear and courage at the same time, as though there were two people inside of her, one terrified to go even a step further, and the other determined to keep going as long as she could. They reached each other at last at the foot of the bridge, her feet on the last of the broad stones of the bridge itself and his on the first of the overgrown cobbles. He was very tall, and Lindy had to look up to see his face, but he bent down on one knee so that they were face to face, and he smiled warmly at her.

“Hello, Lindy,” he said. “I’m Khurshid. Welcome to my country.”

“We need to pass,” said Lindy, and her voice sounded quite brave, though she had been worried that it would sound as small and as frightened as she felt.

“Certainly, certainly,” Khurshid said, as if he were a favourite uncle giving a toy to his niece. His voice was soft and gentle and musical, and Lindy thought that she had never heard anything so beautiful before.  “Of course, I must warn you that will use every means at my disposal to get that crown from you,” Khurshid continued. “It’s the last one, you know, and I was so close to having it just the other day, and I do want it so very badly.”

“You can’t touch her while she wears the crown,” Cleanna said, quietly and evenly.

Khurshid’s voice hardened a little. It was still soft and musical but no longer gentle. “You would do better to hold your tongue before your betters, Bird-woman,” he said, his eyes glancing up past Lindy’s shoulder to where Cleanna stood. “Besides,” he continued, returning his eyes to meet Lindy’s, “it’s simply untrue. There’s nothing that keeps me from touching you, as long as I intend you no harm.”  He reached out his hand and brushed Lindy’s cheek. She flinched, but his touch was not unpleasant. There was no pain or heat or cold, nothing but the gentle warmth of a human hand. “You see,” he said, “I intend you no harm, at least not yet. All I want is your crown, and I’m asking it of you now, so you must answer me. That is how things are done here.”

“No,” Lindy answered, and she did not have to hesitate, and her voice was still firm and strong.

“Well,” said Khurshid, “I see that we must now both play our parts. You will go to do whatever it is that you think you’re doing, which I confess intrigues me very much, and I will try and take the crown from you. Of course, your bird-woman friend is quite right when she says that I cannot harm you unless you challenge me yourself, which would be very unwise, but I assure you that I do not have to touch you to do you harm, so you should be well warned.”

Quickly then, he rose to his feet and turned away from Lindy, and he shimmered in the air, and then it seemed to Lindy that he became a gigantic bull, huge and shaggy like a buffalo, with the wide horns of a longhorn steer, and then it seemed to her that he became a tremendous snake, long as an anaconda and wide as a python, its head reared up much taller even than a grown man, and at last she saw him take the form of a lion, with a heavy golden mane and powerful shoulders and fierce jaws. It roared savagely once and then loped away down the road to the forest, never looking back, leaving Lindy standing on the last stone of the bridge.

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I bought a copy of Jacques Derrida’s Limited Inc at Macondo books yesterday, and it was inscribed,

Mani Haghighi
21 October 97
Montreal

I googled the name, as I always do when I find a reasonably informative inscription, because I love the story of a book as much as I love the story in a book.  Usually I discover nothing very interesting from these searches: a facebook page perhaps, or a business profile, but most often nothing that would even positively identify the former owner of my book.  My search for Mani Haghighi, however, was rather more informative. Apparently Haghighi is a well-known Iranian filmmaker, the director Abadan, Men at Work, Hamoon Bazha, and Canaan, and the writer of Fireworks Wednesday.  His Men at Work in particular is considered to be a modern classic of Iranian cinema.

Now, I expect that you are probably as skeptical as I first was about whether Mani Haghighi the Iranian filmmaker is the same Mani Haghighi who used to own the book I just bought, but the facts do seem to fit.  It turns out that Haghighi took an undergraduate in philosophy from McGill University, which explains why the book was inscribed in Montreal, and then he took a masters in philosophy from the University of Guelph, which explains why I found it in my local bookstore.  I think these two facts alone are more than enough evidence to suggest that the book in my hand was once owned by Mani Haghighi the filmmaker.

What remains unexplained, however, is why I only found the book now, thirteen years later.  I doubt that Haghighi retains a residence in Guelph, especially considering that he went on to further post-graduate work at Trent University and has since been making films in Iran.  Perhaps he gave it to a friend before he left who just recently sold it to Macondo.  Perhaps he sold it to a used bookstore those many years ago, and then it was purchased by someone else, and then it was resold to Macondo, and then I finally discovered it yesterday morning.  Whatever the case, I now find myself distantly and mysteriously linked to this man who was living in the same city and studying at the same university as I was more than a decade ago.  We never chanced to meet then, but I am now reading something that he also once read.

I think I will try to find one of his films.

A friend of mine invited me over to look through some books this afternoon.  Her father, who recently passed away, was an avid collector of many things, including stamps and coins and plates and fossils and shells and rocks, but most of all books, rooms of books and rooms of books and a garage of books and a basement of books, certainly in the thousands of books.   My friend is trying to clean out the house, and she will be taking many of these books to a charity sale at some point, but she asked me and some of her other friends over to have a glass of bourbon, which was poured from one of her father’s many collectible bourbon bottles, and to take what we wanted from his book collection.

As I expected from what I knew of my friend’s father, much of the collection was not really to my taste.  There were boxes and boxes and shelves and shelves of trash war novels, cheap thrillers, biographies, science textbooks, old field guides, histories of the English royal family, and so on.  I did make a few worthwhile discoveries however.  There was a whole section of illustrators in which I found a book dedicated to the work of Howard Pyle, the artist and author that I recently discovered and enjoyed so much.  I also took from this section a number of books illustrated by Gustave Dore, who is one of my favourite artists: Perrault’s Fairy Tales; London: A Pilgrimage; Illustrations for Don Quixote; Illustrations for Rabelais; Illustrations for the Bible; Fables of La Fontaine; and The Divine Comedy.

I also found a section of books for children, all in hardcover and beautifully illustrated, from which I took Howard Pyle’s Pepper and Salt, Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Hugh Lofting’s The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle and Doctor Dolittle’s Caravan, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Father Christmas Letters.

The rest of my finds included books by Desmond Morris, Robert A. Heinlein, Rudyard Kipling, Farley Mowat, Simone de Beauvoir, Goethe, Mark Twain, Pearl S. Buck, Norman Mailer, Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Mordecai Richler, and E.J. Pratt, among others, an incongruous group of authors that the other book-hunters were usually more than willing to let me claim.

Of course, in any sizable collection of used books there will be at least a few of those impromptu bookmarks that so inexplicably amuse me, and this one was no exception.  I discovered two sets of drying wildflowers, left to press who knows how long ago and then forgotten, a flattened bit of cigarette foil, some torn tissue paper, a slip of notepaper with math sums on one side and a doodle on the other, a newspaper clipping about Richard Adams, “Watership Makes a Memorable Saga” by Sandra Hunter, and three newspaper clippings about Farley Mowat:  “The Perfect Writer to Plead for Great Whales” by Kildare Dobbs; “Peace on Earth, Good Will” by Gale Garnett; and “The Tragic Parable of Mowat’s Whale” by William French.

The bourbon was also good.

The pastor at a local church is retiring, so on Monday, a gloriously sunny day, he left a table of his books along the sidewalk, free for the taking.  His collection, at least what he was discarding from it, was quite eclectic.  Here is what I took from it, in no particular order:

Jacques Ellul, Violence: Reflections from a Christian Perspective
Karl Barth, The Faith of the Church
Martin Buber, The Knowledge of Man
Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness
Erich Fromm, Greatness and Limitations of Freud’s Thought
Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water
Tacitus, On Britain and Germany
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions
Simone de Beauvoir, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
Gustave Flaubert, Sentimental Education
Hannah Tillich, From Time to Time
Catherine of Genoa, Purgation and Purgatory, The Spiritual Dialogue
Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom
Paul Tilloch, Dynamics of Faith
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society
Erich Fromm, Man for Himself
Michael Ignatieff, A Just Measure of Pain
C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man

Actually, these last three books are exceptions to the rule of no particular order, since they all came with those little impromptu bookmarks that so intrigue me.  The Ignatieff book contained a promotional bookmark by a publisher called Chelsea Green, which is not remotely the publisher of the book.  The Lewis book contained a sixties era advertising postcard for The Prudential Assurance Company in London, England, with a very amusing black and white photograph of two elderly people framed by mountains and their brand new Buick.  The de Chardin book contained a little recipe card.  At the top, in very neat bloc capitals, it reads, “DIE VORWAHL FUR DIE SCHWEIZ, BITTE.”  When turned upside down, beginning from the bottom, there is a list: “Bus, L’Abri (this is boxed), Swiss Tourist office (this is linked with the previous item with a bracket), post office – see if Dianne or Trudy listed”.  On the back, it reads, simply, “Zurich – 01660845.”

None of these books will rank very highly in the order of books that I will be reading next, though Calvino and de Beauvoir  and Flaubert and Catherine of Genoa will probably get read sooner rather than later.  Most of them are merely books of the sort that I might read, at some point, if the occasion and the inclination arises.  Even so, they are welcome on my shelves.