The Book Gods, and the Cruel Jokes They Play

We have too many books in our house. I know this is the case because we still have books stored away at our old house. Like, hundreds of them. So a few months ago I decided to assemble a bag of books that I believed, earnestly, we no longer needed, and I assembled said bag with all good intentions of taking it to a used bookstore nearby where I could get some store credit for them.

It took me maybe fifteen minutes to cull a dozen titles from the shelf, and four months to get them to the used bookstore, which is less than two miles from our house.

With $20.50 in store credit, I searched the store’s shelves once more for a few things I’ve had my eye out for. One of the novels I’m always hoping to find used is a novel that came out a little more than ten years ago — it was a bestselling novel called The Book of Salt. It’s about the person who cooked for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. You’d think it’d be easy to stumble on a cheap used copy, but apparently not. I could have bought it new, sure. But I haven’t ever been confident enough that I’d like the book; I was merely curious about it. And I didn’t want to spend $15 on curiosity. So I’ve just had it on my “find it for cheap” list for ages now. I struck out again at the store where I had $20.50 in credit, but then later on, at a second used bookstore, I found a copy for $4. This, I was willing to live with, so I picked it up. I also picked up a wonderful book called America’s Kitchens, published in 2008, which I’d never heard of. It’s quite delightful, I recommend it to anyone interested in the history of American domestic design or American cooking.

My husband was also on the hunt for a specific title, when we were out and about: he needs the next title in the Maturin/Aubrey series. At the second bookstore yesterday, he found it, and when I suggested he pick up the one that comes after the one he needed, while he was at it, he scoffed. “I won’t get around to this one for a few months anyhow,” he said. I didn’t quibble. He went and paid for our small stack of books (The Book of Salt; the kitchen book; a paperback of Colwin’s Home Cooking, which I always need spares of; a big hardcover, gorgeously illustrated book of sheet music for Gilbert & Sullivan’s greatest hits; the Aubrey/Maturin book; an a Garfield book for our daughter) and we all headed home satisfied with the day’s enterprise.

It was the next day that my husband held up his Aubrey/Maturin book and said, “I’ve already read this one.” I laughed. “I’d be really ticked off if I did that,” I said. He was sanguine about it. “I’ll find the one I need somewhere and trade this in,” he said. I said, “I’m glad to find my novel,” and explained to him how I’d been looking for it for so many years. He said, “So, the Book Gods were smiling on you.”

Later in the morning I took our daughter to the playground near our house, where there is a free book box. It’s operated by New Haven Reads, which is a wonderful program that promotes literacy — they run a book bank, which is kind of like a bookstore, except all the books are free; and they operate a massive tutoring program that serves dozens and dozens of kids across the city. While my daughter’s zooming around the playground, I poke idly through the book box, and what’s sitting there?

The Book of Salt. Price? No price: it’s from New Haven Reads, it’s free.

I cursed under my breath and picked the book up and held it in my hand, furious, for a moment; then, resigned, I put it back in the box. I missed my chance; let someone else have it.

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