Actually two miracles. Two thrift stores.
My wife and I frequently visit the small town of Idyllwild, in Southern California’s San Jacinto Mountains, where, among other things, we take pleasure in exploring the town’s several thrift stores. From each visit we tend to come home with a handful of used books. There is a pleasant serendipity that inheres in the act of finding unexpected books among the haphazard piles of foxed and dusty titles. I have come home with books on science, philosophy, birds, music. I bought Harold Bloom’s The Anatomy of Influence for a dollar at the book shed at the HELP Center Thrift Store this past spring (a place where I once found the shoes I would later wear at my wedding). I found a beautiful book simply called Birds, by writer-artist Jeffrey Fisher, at Bubba’s Books up North Circle Drive. The Peterson First Guide to Astronomy, found at the thrift store at the edge of town, near the Lumber Mill Bar and Grill, is indeed, as the subtitle states, with no hint of hyperbole, my “simplified field guide to the stars, planets, and the universe.” And so on.
I have a pile of unread books on my shelf at home, a pile that ebbs and flows like an accordion, sometimes high and teetering, sometimes, occasionally, rarely really, low, deflated. On our last trip to Idyllwild this past summer I had decided that my bellows of books was fully extended and that a notion of prudence, of selectivity, was in order. I, thus, and most certainly with an idea of the futility of the pursuit, added only two books to my list:
Alain Robbe-Grillet is a relatively recent discovery of mine. If I were to stumble across one of his books—one, of course, that I had not yet read—I would make the purchase. Considering that I had already read arguably all of his most well-known works (The Erasers, The Voyeur, Jealousy, In the Labyrinth), it seemed highly unlikely that I would find a new book of his, and I had tempered my expectations accordingly.
I was not familiar with the other book on my list: A. S. Byatt’s Possession: A Romance. Let me explain: I had just finished William Maxwell’s excellent All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories. On the last page was a list of four other Vintage International books: The Remains of the Day (Ishiguro), All the Pretty Horses (McCarthy), The English Patient (Ondaatje), and, yes, Possession. The fact that the other three books are among my favorites decided me to add Possession to my list. (That the publisher could have been disingenuously sneaking in a lemon among oranges occurred to me, but sometimes, dear readers, we must live life dangerously.)
So imagine my surprise when at the Recent Arrivals section of the “Used Book Store,” really a large closet, at the little Riverside County Library Idyllwild branch, I stumbled across Robbe-Grillet’s Repetition, the writer’s first novel in twenty years. I have a photograph of myself standing in front of the library’s shelves, book in hand, smiling spectacularly. Then, just a day later, at the Community Presbyterian Church’s thrift store, an alfresco establishment reached via a sloping driveway fringed with Jeffrey pines and incense cedars, I paused at the familiar spine of a Vintage International book (a supreme series, to be sure—always worth a glance), and, you guessed it: Possession: A Romance, in fair condition. (That this thrift store also offered up to us a terrific set of ice cube trays sweetened the deal.)
These are the happy happenings, the little miracles, of the literary traveler. And both for a combined two bucks.