Thursday, December 09, 2004

:: Book buying binge! ::




Just the other day I felt like I had found a P500 bill on the floor. Wandering around NBS Megamall, I stopped by what I like to call their “bargain book bin,” which is actually just a table overflowing with hardbound books discarded by American public libraries. Armed with a little bit of patience and a good memory for names and titles, you can walk off with an armful of good books for only a little bit of money.

In my last excursion, I picked up After the War by Alice Adams, Roads: Driving America's Great Highways by Larry McMurtry, Chasing Cézanne by Peter Mayle, and Widower’s House: A Study in Bereavement. Or, How Margot and Mella Forced Me to Flee My Home by John Bayley. The first two earned a spot each on the NY Times’ Notable Books list of 2000, and the last two were names that just jumped out at me when I was looking through the books in the bin. I had read and thoroughly enjoyed Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and Anything Considered, and had always wanted to know more about the couple Iris Murdoch and John Bayley. They were pretty good finds, but the best thing about my latest haul is the price: a grand total of P249 for all four--less than the cost of Da Vinci Code in paperback.

Here are some excerpts from various NY Times articles about these four books. After the War and Roads earned good marks while the other two were deemed so-so works. The nice thing about books this cheap is that if they turn out to be bad, you can toss them into the trash can without any regrets!

From the Notable Books list of 2000:
AFTER THE WAR, by Alice Adams.
Adams's final, alas, gossipy novel, finished before her death last year, pursues the Baird family in the Southern college town to which they have fled from the Depression; the style is as blithe and contagious as ever, and important truths transpire indirectly, if at all.

ROADS: Driving America's Great Highways, by Larry McMurtry.
This door sparingly opened on the private life of the author of 22 novels is an occasion for reminiscence and commentary on whatever pops up in the windows or in his mind as he crisscrosses the country: enigmatic glances at the Western past, salutes to hundreds of literary and historical figures.
And here are excerpts from NY Time book reviews of the last two books:
WIDOWER'S HOUSE: A Study in Bereavement. Or, How Margot and Mella Forced Me to Flee My Home, by John Bayley
John Bayley, the critic, teacher and novelist, has written a trilogy about a husband faced with the physical and mental disintegration of his wife from Alzheimer's disease. ''Elegy for Iris'' (1998) explored the onset of the disease and his brave and touching efforts to cope with a mate who has suddenly turned into an irrational child. In ''Iris and Her Friends'' (1999), the disease has progressed. Seldom able to communicate now with his wife, Bayley retreats into memory (one of the ''friends'') to preserve his own sanity, dangerously strained by the time his wife dies in a nursing home on Feb. 8, 1999, at the age of 79. The latest memoir, ''Widower's House,'' is aftermath: a tale of sorrow, relief, entrapment and, finally, escape.

CHASING CEZANNE, by Peter Mayle.
The problem with this fast-paced novel about hanky-panky in the art world is that it slows down only for the memorable meals. There's nothing wrong with this -- after all, everyone has to eat, and Peter Mayle's readers know better than most that eating well beats eating badly. But a good thriller needs good characterization, which ''Chasing Cezanne'' simply lacks time for. Only a couple of the principals are particularly interesting, or even possessed of engaging quirks; in any case, Mayle's snide tone keeps us from getting close to any of them.

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