November 16, 2009 at 12:04 pm , by Tom Claire
This morning’s scene: Crowded commuter train about to enter the tunnel leading to Grand Central Terminal. I notice a lanky casually dressed 25-year-old intently reading a big blue hardcover; he is so caught up in the book that he seems oblivious to the crush around him. Instantly I want to know what it is that he is reading—it must be good. So I inch my way forward until I can look over his shoulder: Voila, he is reading The Gathering Storm! I am amazed, since The Gathering Storm is the first book in Sir Winston Churchill’s six-volume opus The Second World War (Houghton Mifflin; hardbound, 1948 first edition), which I had just picked up in its entirety in near-mint condition at an estate sale for $40 along with a few other choice hardbacks. So I reach into my bag to show him my copy of The Gathering Storm (I am already about a third of the way through it) and ask why it is that his version is so much bigger than mine. He looks at it and at me and says in reply: “This is sci-fi/fantasy, man; you got the wrong book . . .”
No, I had not gotten the “wrong book”; in fact it had taken me many years to get the right ones, since I have wanted to read Churchill on my father’s war for a long long time but did not want to buy paperback reissues of his magnum opus (he won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1953) and had so far only been able to find the occasional single volume at flea markets and tag sales. Not only did I luck out at this estate sale by getting these six books en masse but since the sale organizer knew my wife I was able to pick up a few other choice books, too, including a first edition of William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1948), to replace my well-thumbed reissue of the same (which I will mail to my little brother, just out of a career spent in the Army), Robert Caro’s first volume of his projected LBJ bio trilogy Means of Ascent, the Library of America’s two-volume anthology of 19th-century American poetry (I love Library of America books—they are so well put together but at $35 a pop they are not cheap; these two were $2 apiece and in virtually unread, brand-new condition), and more, all at great prices. Moral of the story? It pays to listen to your spouse when he or she suggests going to an estate sale, just as it pays to be patient when looking for books—you might eventually luck out.
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