Friday, May 22, 2009

A special perk about book work.

Down in San Diego for the weekend doing some family/personal errands, writing, and engaging in friendly reunions that might prove less frequent in the years to come. But hopefully not, especially with weddings and bachelor parties already being planned.

I finished The Brothers Karamazov tonight, set aside Thomas Hardy and Isak Dinesen and Thomas Disch, and pondered death, family and friendship after a late evening visitation from a good friend who is celebrating his one year wedding anniversary, and another friend (the parent of the married friend) back after a five-hour trip from an LA funeral for another friend's father.

I'm satisfying my sense of "work" by sending out stories to various literary journals that I'm told are amenable to unpublished writers. But mostly I'm thinking about the person I discovered recently at my job: Emily Hahn.

A neighborhood bookstore invites questions from eccentric yet affable connoisseurs who long to know about the tribes that may have existed in the remote region of the world that they are visiting in less than a fortnight. So they want the one and only book written on the subject. Written from the point of view of a "lay Jesuitical botanist who has been cross-trained in medical anthropology." Perhaps out-of-print. Perhaps published by a small Swedenborgian non-profit. Maybe it's not even listed. Or real.

And you search for it. And you learn more than your bargained for. And make promises that you can get it for them if they are interested. And they seem anxious for it, hungry for it. That hunger for knowledge that is so much more nuanced than other appetites. You get the hunger too. It's an addiction in the trade. And for what? For more things you'll never fully understand, only graze the surface of.

You discover people you've never heard of. And deeds you never thought possible. And biographies that lead to further associations. And then the potential to be plunged even further into some previously unheard of snake's nest. (The temptation also to buy books is pervasive and hard to resist. But I'm fighting that off heroically so far. Not that I have much money for anything lately.)

Or a person calls you and asks you to do a search for something. It's for a book club, she says. The book is called Nobody Said Not To Go. The title is interesting. She doesn't know what it's about, whether it's fiction or essays or self-help or animal husbandry. You look it up. Holy shite, you say. Why don't people know about her? It turns out to be a biography of an extraordinary woman.

Emily Hahn

How can you not be interested, if only based on the fact that one of her 52 books is called Love Conquers Nothing: A Glandular History Of Civilization?

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