Thursday, November 15, 2007

Date Night: Books and Fireplaces

Used Books = Romance

That's my idea of good math.

Last night, my husband did something wonderful. For our weekly date night, he took me to Second Story Books, a gigantic Rockville warehouse that is packed with rare, antique, and plain old used books. This was not the first time we have been there, but it was the first time in about four years. To me, walking through the door of this place is like stepping into fairyland. You have to understand something about me--I love books. Not just "I love reading", though that is true as well. I. Love. Books.

Books 1

In fact, last night I found a Eudora Welty quotation in one of these used books that almost perfectly describes my own feelings: "I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with [books]--with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and earned off to myself. Still illiterate, I was committed to all the reading I could give them." Does that resonate with you even a little bit? If so, then you will know what I mean when I say that the smell of this used books store--the very smell which Ms. Welty mentions above, multiplied by a hundred thousand or so--makes me sigh and say, "Ahhh, I've come home."

My husband, knowing both my love of books and my love of reading, hatched a brilliant plot to bless me. He took me to the store and allowed me... I don't know how long... an hour, perhaps, to wander around and browse and scan and dip and bliss and ooh and ahh. Then, after I had collected an armful of books that would cost me all of (but only just) my spending money for this month, he led me in completing our assignment. The assignment, created by Dave, was to choose a book to purchase and read together. This book had to meet the following criteria:
1. It had to be fiction.
2. It had to be something that would justly be considered a classic.
3. It had to be something neither or us had ever read.
4. It had to be of a length that we might realistically expect to
complete in the odd free moments we have together during the next
year. (Car trips, while he waits for me to get ready for bed, etc.)
This assignment thrilled me, because I have always wanted to get into the rhythm of reading with my husband, and I've envied (in a friendly, admiring way) couples who do this regularly! Somehow, previously, it has never worked out for Dave and me, but perhaps now...?

Books 3

We headed for the fiction section (aisles and aisles worth--we got no father than the "D" authors). After brief debate about whether or not Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Dickens' The Pickwick Papers really constitute classics (Dave: I'm not sure that qualifies as a classic./Cara: But it's Dickens!/Dave: But I've never heard of it./Cara: (desperately) That's because you're uncultured!) we settled happily on Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Then we headed for the fireplaces (i.e., La Madeleine and Caribou Coffee), where we got initially somewhat distracted (by conversation) from our goal of making a good dent in our new book. Eventually, we did manage to make it through the preface and first chapter. (Only 29 chapters to go.)

Okay, so even though that's the end of the date night story, I simply must rave a bit more about books. Including Mr. Defoe, I walked away with 11 books last night. This is a major triumph for me! Building a personal library is a lifelong project of mine--something I have been and will be busy with for all of my days. Purchasing books is something I can do with great relish; no agonized should-I-reallys or guilty buyer's conscience for me! Oh, and used books are marvelous because, in addition to being inexpensive, they have history. They have souls. Even though I will never know who owned and read a particular used book before me, I love the idea that it has traveled to places and spoken to people before it came to me. Perhaps--lucky book--it has even been loved.

Books 2

Okay, so here are my picks from last night, in no reasoned order:
- Milton's Paradise Lost. Some books I set out to enjoy and others I set out to conquer. I have a feeling that Milton will fall into the latter category, but I am determined to fight it out one of these days!
-The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford. You know, the one about the two dogs and the cat trying to get back to their owner. (The movie was called "Homeward Bound," I think. My sisters and I loved it.) We had this little book sitting on our bookshelves as I was growing up, but I never opened it. When my kids are a little older, I think we'll make it a read-aloud.
-Tennyson's Poetry. One of my great fictional heroines, Anne Shirley Blythe, references Tennyson often, and I have never read him, save what little was force-fed in high school. But I mean to change that. Perhaps I will at last understand why Anne floats down the stream in the Barry's flat while pretending to be Elaine!
-Wine From These Grapes, by Edna St. Vincent Millay. She's a poet I have heard of and never read. I picked up this little volume last night, read one poem, and was instantly head-over-heels.
-Scarlett Saves Her Family: The Heart Warming True Story of a Stray Mother Cat Who Rescued Her Kittens From a Raging Fire. Sounds sappy, I know, but I picked it up for some reason and was touched by the synopsis. I think this one has read-aloud potential too. I mean, what child doesn't love heroic felines?
-The House at Pooh Corner, by A.A. Milne. This was the #1 find of the evening. It's a 1943 hardcover edition with the original, adorable illustrations and sun-fading on the dust jacket. Milne dedicated the book to her mother with a little poem that made me choke up. And sampling from the text made me giggle so that I had to read that bit to Dave, who didn't seem to fully appreciate it.
-Selected Poems of Robert Frost. Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg are the first "grownup" poets I can remember reading. I still love Frost, but owned nothing of his writings until yesterday!
-To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife, by Caitlin Flanagan. Doesn't quite sound like your typical book on biblical femininity, does it? But from what I understand it's a lot more in line with the Bible's perspective than you might guess! And though I personally am not burdened with the loathing part of the title's equation, I am intrigued by the author, whom I heard once on Dr. Mohler's radio show.
-If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff. A kid's classic. It was 60 cents. It now belongs to Meg.
-My First Cook Book, also for Meg. A big book with life-sized photos of all the ingredients and very simple, cute recipes. I can't wait to tackle some of them with Megger.
-Awakening Your Child's Natural Genius: Enhancing Curiosity, Creativity, and Learning Ability, by Thomas Armstrong, PhD. The title may sound a little bit psycho-babbly, but the book seems great so far. (Yes, I've started reading it.) It contains lots of fun ideas for helping kids to learn naturally, and I think it will be a useful reference tool for Dave and me as we make future decisions about how to educate our kids.

Walking out of that place after making my purchases, I could not keep the grin of satisfaction off of my face. I could not help gloating over my two shopping bags of literary treasure. I could not tell my husband too many times how much he had delighted me.

He knew taking me to the used bookstore would be romantic to me. And it was. Because he knows me. He loves me. And he's willing to do things that interest me more than they interest him, just because they bless me. My Darling Man, that's a little piece of Christ reflected in you. It makes me love you more, and it makes me love Him more. And that's a pretty good piece of work for one date night.


Anonymous said...

Hi Cara! I used to go to Catoctin Elementary School with you. (My name was Nicole Smitley.) I've enjoyed reading your blogs, and it sounds like you have a wonderful family. I would love to hear from you if you have a chance (

Anonymous said...

It's scary how similar you and Marlon are in this area. Seriously...
Evy :)

Mike & Sarah said...

Paradise Lost is one of my favorites of all time! (I think that probably says more than a little about me.) I read it pre-Christian, but God really used it to provoke me to consider free will and predestination. I am suspicision that Milton even changed his position on the matter, if not in Paradise Lost then in Paradise Regained. Enjoy! (And I hope it is more of a pleasure than just a "conquest.") - Sarah T