Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On literary wars

You may remember my book circle. I mentioned it briefly in my crazed Friday post – as I am self-appointed resident baker for our meetings. My book circle had an extraordinary meeting, seeing as we were participating in a survey/interview for the National Broadcasting Company (NRK). They were asking for book circles where the members were under the age of 40, and we volunteered. There was a lot of commotion prior to this meeting, because we struggled a lot in finding a time where both we and the interviewers were able to participate, but finally, on Friday, we managed to get together.

It was an interesting event, seeing as we were able to talk quite liberally about the book coverage in NRK in general; about their website specifically (this was originally what we were supposed to review); and about anything else that came to our mind concerning NRK, a national institution we all grew up with.

Even though we spent even less time than usual to discuss the book of the month – Alice in Wonderland (no, we did not pick this one because the movie is just out... Fine, that is why…) – we decided to find a new book for our next (this time NRK-free) meeting.

We ended up weighing H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (not The World of the Wars, as I keep calling it) against Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. Several of us favoured Heller – mostly because catch 22 has become an idiom, so we’d all like to know what the back story is. Perhaps even more mostly, though, we favoured Catch 22 because we, with one (or possibly two) exceptions, are generally skeptical towards science fiction (one might wonder what Wells is doing on the list at all, actually…). Another strong argument was that Tom Cruise is in Warp of the Worlds, but seeing as we’re supposed to read the book and not see the movie, this was quickly written off as irrelevant. However, we realized that since about half of our book circle members are finishing their master’s degrees this spring, we didn’t want a long book. So Wells’ hundred-something pages won over Heller’s five hundred-something.

As a result of our “intellectually” preferred book of the month, I went on another insidious book hunt this Saturday. Well, insidious might be overstretching things (I really like that word), but it was arduous at least. An onerous quest, that required a strenuous effort (yes, I am done flashing fancy words now).

The first bookshop I entered had a copy of The Warf of the Worlds. Yay! I almost bought it, but then I discovered that they also had a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (am I the only one who gets Joseph Conrad mixed up with Joseph Heller? Ironic, I know. At least it isn’t Lauren Conrad.). I’ve been in a funny reading mode lately, where I get extreme urges to read something from or depicting a specific country or culture. For instance, in the making of yesterday’s post, I immediately desired to read a book from the Central African Republic. I think it all started with my reading of Chris Cleave’s The Other Hand (otherwise known as “The Orange Book”) last year – at least this is the origin of my Africa-specific reading appetite. Anyway, I have for a while wanted to read something from the Congo. I’ve just started The Poisonwood Bible, and so far I really like it, but the book you’re “supposed” to read when the words “novel” and “the Congo” is mentioned in the same sentence is Heart of Darkness.

Consequently, I’ve been looking for this book for a while, and seeing it in the same shop that had the other book I was looking for, I figured this was probably the world’s way of telling me that I deserved both books (having just received my student loan also helped me conclude in this fashion).

However, my rationality kicked in. What might have been the true rational thing would have been to go to the library. But no, I’m not that rational. What I knew, though, is that there is another bookstore chain which has a running offer of 3 for 2 on English pocket books. Here I was about to buy two book in a different store, where I could get a third for free. No, siree!

There is a store of this same chain in the mall I was currently visiting, so I went there.

Naturally, they did not have The Wart of the Worlds. They did, however, have Heart of Darkness. When it comes to books, though, I don’t give up easily. There are a number of bookstores downtown Oslo, and the biggest one from the chain I wanted to visit, is right by the main street. It isn’t far to walk, but seeing as I somehow ended up visiting every other store in the area as well, it took some time to get there. In the process I even managed to buy a ridiculously expensive (and ridiculously purple) raincoat. I ♥ it!

When I finally got to the bookstore in question, I immediately went to the classics section. They had Heart of Darkness, but, surprise, surprise, no War of the Words. Then I went to the science fiction section. No War of the Wards. I even tried the fantasy section (just for kicks), but no – not even a hint of War of the Worms. Eventually I did something I almost never do in bookstores – I asked the staff to help me find it. They did not help me find it, but they did help establish that the book indeed was out of stock. And not just from this store, but from the entire chain. So the War of the Walls + Heart of Darkness + random, free goodness dream was crushed.

I reluctantly faced defeat (though I did visit another bookstore, from another chain, before I went home. They didn’t even have Heart of Darkness).

The result? I went through five bookstores to find what I already had found in the very first (and ironically, one of the smallest) of them. Looking for a “free” book, I ended up bookless. It was all very sad.

“Fortunately,” I said to myself, “the bookstore at the university is quite big, and it often stacks up on classics (with them literature studies people hanging around there all day).” (Yes, I even speak in parentheses. Especially when I am talking to myself.) “I will probably be able to get both Heart of Darkness and The War of Whatever It Was on Monday.” It would mean no free book, but that is probably just as well, seeing as my bookshelves are already filled to the insidious risk of them falling down. And putting them back up would simply be arduous.

And that should have been the end of this blog post.

But the world was not done waging war on me.

Because I did go to the university book store, and I did ask for The Wwwar of the Wwworlds (only by intense concentration and multiple w’s could I bring myself to say the wars, sorry, the worlds, sorry, the words in correct order). As you will have guessed, however, they did not have it. As you also might have guessed, they did have Heart of Darkness (but in a copy that had an appendix that was three times as long as the actual book. I told you [well, no, I told me] there were literature studies people hanging around there…). Once again I left the bookstore bookless. Clearly the world is trying to tell me something about which book to read… But I shall conquer it yet!

The morale of this blog post was supposed to be that if you only search long enough, you will find. Or something to that effect. Seeing as I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (but I did manage to lure a U2 title in there), I cannot conclude in the manner I intended. Instead, I think that it is high time I draw another conclusion, a conclusion I probably should have accepted after my experiences with the Orange Book and the New Orange Book (That is Actually Green) : never, NEVER, leave a book you intend to buy behind!

Tonight I am going back to that first bookshop, and I am picking up both the Way of the Worlds and Heart of Darkness (unless one or both of them have sold out since Saturday – in which case I might finally take the hint that I am simply not supposed to read this/these book/s).


Jan Morrison said...

you are too funny! Wharf of the Whirls is not worth it believe me.

TreeX said...

I LIKED War of the Worlds a lot... Then again, I was 16 or so, and I read a facsimile free e-book of the first edition on Project Gutenberg.org... Still, definitely one of the better books I've read :)

I've also had Heart of Darkness on my shelves for years now, even started it a couple of times, but ran out of time on all occasions... I also LOVE annotated versions ;))

Watery Tart said...

BUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I love your story-telling. It always makes me giggle.

Poisonwood Bible is FABULOUS--one of my all-time favorites.

Haven't read Heart of Darkness or Wash of the Worms--pretty darned sure the latter isn't my thing, as I'm VERY picky on SciFi.

And that orange book is my only regret on not taking the chocolate bookstore series over the gardening one.... I really wanted to have a customer looking for an orange book for which they didn't have a title or author...

Cruella Collett said...

Jan - well, I did buy it, and I sort of have to read it (the book circle has been known to make me read books I otherwise wouldn't have, for better and worse, I guess).

Joris - I'm not sure it qualifies as an annotated version when the annotations is a lot longer than the actual book, though! It's like cheese with bread (hell, you might as well skip the bread all together!).

Tami - yeah, you're the one who made me aware of the Poisonwood. So you're the one I'll vlame if I don't like it :P
I too think it's a shame about the orange booklessness of your cozy, but I am convinced the one you did pick will turn out awesome. So you're forgiven ;)

TreeX said...


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