Happy Christmas 1983 - Unknowing Gifts Found at a Used Book Store
My usual watering book "hole" is a local used books store (actually two locations in town) where I go to look for treasures. Often I don't have the money to buy them, but a nice British subject living here in the Colonies and working at one of the aforementioned stores usually puts the books aside for me to purchase later. At any rate, I go there at least once a month, and, since time is always so limited, I have a store map I follow. Principally, of course, I aim for the Literature/Fiction section. There I go "author-hopping" beginning in the "As" (Auster, of course, disregarding the fact that I can't really find anything there--a sign that people who read Auster tend to keep their books), moving alphabetically but with a sharp eye for the following: anything out of the ordinary on the Dostoevsky section; anything Scott Fitzgerald simply because there can always be a treasure hiding in some corner of the "F" section; Hemingway because of my love/hate relationship with the Great Bastard; the "Ms" are always fun... mainly Murakami (very much in the same vein as Auster, one can't really find anything at used book stores because his readers--like Auster's--are fans and tend to keep their books); Norman Mailer, also in the "Ms" on the strength of the titles I have enjoyed so much over the years; from the "Ms" there's a huge jump to the "Ss" to see if I can find anything by Robert Stone. After I do my map trek, then I take a bit more time to go back and see if I didn't miss anything else from the other letters of the alphabet.
This past week, I got extremely lucky (as I did a few weeks ago--more on this later) and found a FIRST EDITION/FIRST PRINTING of Murakami's "The Elephant Vanishes;" back then, the second book published in the U.S. market. While at the "Ms" I noticed a copy of Norman Mailer's "Ancient Evenings," one of Mailer's obscured titles; no one ever remembers he actually wrote some of these. Inside, I found a Christmas card from one Char to his wife, Joan. I read it and felt it necessary to take with me, so I sneaked it inside my Murakami purchase. I know, I know... but it was such a wonderful gift, really... who could contain himself after reading the card?
The problem was that when I finally had time to re-read the card, it didn't feel as sweet as it did the first reading. I don't know why, but the prose felt forced, as if following a model too closely. I've said before that I am not the world's greatest writer, despite the fact I teach people how to approach it. I'll let you be the judge. This is the text of the card...
This is Christmas day 1983. We have traveled a long way together. Out children and the things we have done have been a great pleasure to both of us. The kids are out in the world now making their own ways and finding their places as we had done. It is a time to be happy that they are well educated and healthy and well prepared for their futures. It's a time to be happy that we too are healthy, that we have so many good friends, that we are fortunate to have so many material things, and that we are about to make changes in our home and lifestyle so that we can better enjoy the years that lie ahead. Let's try to talk to our kids today and please be happy, Char.
I am trying hard not to be critical, but the message feels a bit "forced," as if Char was going down a standard list of things to include in the message. Perhaps it's my cynical side making a nasty appearance. Again, I'll let you be the judges of this wonderful Christmas message.