Friday, July 29, 2011

The Book That Got Away

When you take an hour of your vacation and visit a used-book store, you run a risk.

You start by making the same choice you would in any book shop. You move toward some sections and ignore others. You pass the travel section to spend more time amid old volumes of poetry; you let the vintage cookbooks rest in peace so you can make an extra careful perusal of the published journals and collections of essays.

There is a better than average chance that most of the books on the shelves in front of you are out of print. You smile to see familiar editions that you have had on your own shelves at home for thirty years. You examine other editions that you had no idea existed, covers that must have been redesigned by the time you were born. You hunt to see whether there might be a copy of a book you had read as a guest in someone’s home years before.

The risk, of course, is that the volume you return to the bookstore shelf in one town is the book you will be thinking of twenty-four hours later at your rental in another. You may even be describing it over drinks with a vacation companion, reminding him of the novelty of an anthology of short stories that were adapted into well-known movies.

Yes, this week I returned to a bookstore shelf in Wellfleet a soft-cover copy of Adaptations: From Short Story to Big Screen. What was the likelihood that I would really want to read Mary Orr’s short story “The Wisdom of Eve” on which the Joseph Mankiewicz classic film All About Eve (1950) was based?

Back from Cape Cod two days later, I went promptly to my hometown library and signed out that very collection of stories edited and published by Stephanie Harrison in 2005. In the comfort of home I read from my library book Mary Orr’s “The Wisdom of Eve” before signing onto Netflix and watching All About Eve.

The book that got away? It didn’t really.

And the movie is better.

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