Faded Pages - Out Of Print Authors, Reading

Faded Pages – Out Of Print Authors: Sholem Asch

As I stood perusing the selection at a used book store recently (a separate blog post on that to come at a later time) I was asked what type of books I like to read.

I replied that my tastes run to classics, some modern literature, some thrillers, and biography as fiction. Truth be told I’ll read just about anything that catches my eye; although I typically don’t read science fiction and fantasy, as I find those types of stories more visually appealing (when translated to film) than I do to read in black and white.

My personal library is filled with old bindings and new ones. Very little of them are New York Times bestsellers, at least not from the past forty plus years. I buy used books because I read a lot of novels that are only available in modern paperback bindings (which I don’t typically read as I can’t prop them open on my lap and simply keep the pages from turning involuntarily), or are long out of print and hard to find in a ‘new’ book store.

Some of the authors I have most enjoyed reading are not well-known to my reading friends. When I find an author I’d not yet ventured to read whom I have initially enjoyed, I begin looking for additional titles and stock-pile them to read at a future date. Buying books used, I can easily pick up three, four titles for under twenty dollars.

Just this morning I happened to glance at my copy of ‘The Shadow Of The Wind’ on one of my book shelves. The story centers on a young man’s visit to a vast underground warehouse full of books by long-forgotten authors where visitors are allowed to select a work to take home and make their own. The authors in the ‘cemetery of forgotten books’ have long faded from popularity and many have even earned the title of ‘obscure’. The novel that the young man selects unlocks a dark mystery steeped in the history of Barcelona, Spain (and is also a wonderful read) as the young man attempts to determine whatever became of the book’s long-forgotten author.

These are authors I love to find, and have found several of in my years of being an avid reader.

Such has been the case with Sholem Asch. The first of his books that caught my eye was ‘The Nazarene – A Novel Based On The Life Of Christ’. The binding I found is not flashy at all; with only two text colors and an appealing though not altogether ornate font. There is no accompanying photo on the dust jacket, simply the author’s name and the title of another of his works.

I am not a religious person. I have merely a passing interest in theology, seeking only historical fact, not spiritual fulfillment, when I read a ‘Christian’ work. I love well-written historical tales and the recreating of worlds that existed thousands of years ago which show that the author did their research in bringing those worlds to life.

Sholem Asch delivers a tale of the life of Jesus Christ that is comprised of a series of recollections from three separate yet connected viewpoints, those of Cornelius, Pontius Pilate’s governor of Jerusalem; the Gospel of Judas Iscariot, and a young student of Nicodemus named Joseph. What I liked most about the book is that it neither preaches nor pontificates in speaking of Christ. The story of Christ, known to most, is simply the ‘thread’ that holds the tale together as the historical and cultural context of the time is presented in lavish detail. While there are several familiar literary ‘devices’ employed to present the life of Christ to Asch’s readers (the long-lost manuscript, the reincarnated being, etc.) the three connecting tales deliver a profile of Christ and of the holy land during his lifetime like few other authors ever have offered.

Sholem Asch, born in 1880, emigrated from his native Poland to the United States where he became a naturalized citizen in 1920. During his lifetime he wrote many novels and plays, and was (at the time) a celebrated writer up until his death in 1957. His works include several other novels based upon Biblical figures and tales (Mary, Moses, The Apostle, The Prophet). Of those here mentioned, The Prophet is the only one I’ve not yet read. Other more secular works such as East River, which describes the potential conflicts of coexistence between Jews and Christians and Salvation, which centers on a ‘slow-learning’ scholar in the 19th century who is kicked out of school due to his excessive time off to help his mother and support his family (neither of which I’ve yet read as I’ve not found them in my travels) are reportedly wonderful reads about the life of the Jewish people.

For anyone, such as I am, with a more ‘temporal’ interest in Christ and his life and times, Sholem Asch’s works are a great place to learn more.

Happy Reading!

 

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Reading

More B-Side Literature

Several months ago I created a post about what I referred to as B-Side Literature – lesser known works by famous authors that are familiar to most anyone by the author’s name alone.

I called them ‘B-Side Literature’ to liken them to the lesser known songs on the flip-side of vinyl 45 RPM singles – a companion to the hit song on the A-side.

For my first post, I chose five works from five authors I enjoy, and I thought perhaps I’d choose five more ‘B-Side’ novels that I’ve also loved to share with others in the hope that they will further investigate well-known authors that they might not otherwise take another look at.

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Alexandre Dumas, known for such venerable stories as The Three Musketeers and The Count Of Monte Cristo (two of my all-time favorites) released a series of books called ‘Celebrated Crimes’, an eight-volume collection of essays on some of Europe’s most infamous characters. While I have only indulged in one thus far, I chose this one and was far from disappointed. Mary Stuart, also known as Mary Queen of Scots, ascended to the throne at the ripe old age of six when her father King James Of Scotland died. After 22 years of rule Mary was forced to abdicate the throne in favor of her son, James, who was only one year old at the time. Mary fled Scotland and sought out the protection of her cousin, Elizabeth I, and was confined by Elizabeth to various castles and manor houses for the next eighteen years and was subsequently beheaded for ‘conspiring to have her cousin assassinated’. A fascinating read – and I often find that non-fiction written by a fiction writer can be just as compelling as their novels. Definitely worth a read.

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Jack Kerouac – The Father of the Beats – the man who made road trips cooler than cool with his most famous work, On The Road, also released many other works which reveal much about his own life and that of his Beat Generation contemporaries, albeit under fictional names. The Town and The City is the lengthiest of Kerouac’s other works, at (in the edition I own) more than 400 pages. In it he pays homage to the works of Thomas Wolfe and describes the trials and tribulations of the Martin family (each character in the story molded upon someone from Kerouac’s life and on Kerouac himself, as in the case of the protagonist and narrator of the story, Peter Martin) – Peter drops out of school in favor of a cross-country trip (an obvious precursor to the wildly famous On The Road). Kerouac has become, in the past 20 years, one of my favorite authors to read and I find myself bemoaning his far too early passing at the age of 47. Thankfully he left behind numerous manuscripts, a few of which have been published only in recent years, filled with amazing stories of his adventures on and off the road. This book is, to me, equally as good as On The Road, and a shame to let go unread if you at all enjoy Kerouac’s writing.

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Anne Rice. I discovered her writing in my late teens and early 20’s when I had a thirst (pun intended) for bloodsuckers and stories of their heinous acts. Anne Rice managed to turn vampires from nocturnal fiends into glamorous, romantic figures with her tales of Lestat, Louis, Armand, and company. In between these ‘Tales’ Anne Rice wrote some magnificent works that definitely bear investigation. Cry To Heaven is, to me, the best example of Anne Rice’s non-vampire tales being every bit as good as the bloodsuckers. Set in the 18th century, the book tells the story of a ‘Castrati’ (a castrated male soprano) mentor who finds in a new student the opportunity to fulfill a dream that was for himself shattered at an early age. It is a lush, lavish, beautiful tale that I have recommended time and again to those who have not ventured further than Rice’s vampires into her catalogue of works.

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Jules Verne’s The Golden Volcano was the second of his ‘lesser known’ works that I have read, after The Lighthouse At The End Of The World. Two Canadian cousins set out to stake a claim during the gold rush and make their fortune, following a deathbed confession about a very rich vein of gold just waiting to be taken by someone. The cousins make their way across country, with dreams of fabulous wealth leading the way. Disasters, death, and danger await them all along the way.  Jules Verne remains one of the world’s best adventure writers with a long list of works to investigate that go beyond 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Around The World In Eighty Days. Many of Verne’s works have not received an English translation to date, but thanks to the Bison Frontiers Of Imagination series several of those works are now available, of which this is one. Such a great, easily devoured adventure tale.

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Lastly, Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Another of my favorite novels, Crime and Punishment, set out to portray a guilty man, The Idiot offers a character of pure innocence. A twenty-six year old man, upon leaving a sanitarium after several years stay, returns to Russia to claim an inheritance and to rejoin society. Finding himself an absolute stranger to the ways and mores of the rich and powerful, Prince Myshkin finds himself falling prey to scandal, tragedy, and murder. The impact of his innocence on the unvirtuous creatures that he encounters leads to a powerful and dramatic conclusion to the novel. Russian literature may be difficult in terms of the translated version (some are easier to read than others, and I recommend Constance Garnett translations to newcomers to Dostoevsky) – this book, along with Crime and Punishment, The Possessed, Notes From Underground, and House Of The Dead have all been wonderfully enjoyable to read.

Happy Reading!

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New England, By The Book

New England, By The Book: Freeport Book Shoppe, Freeport ME

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Several years after I moved from Maine to Massachusetts I received a phone call from my mother where she was excited to share something with me that she’d found that day. It was a used book shop not far from where she lived, and she could not recall my ever mentioning having been there before to her.

She was quite correct. I quickly corrected this oversight and visit the store any and every chance I get to when I visit Maine.

Owner David Young is a self-taught antiquarian dealer in books, having spent years as a security guard and in the army reserve. Entering the shop (once you peruse the bargains set outside the door on the front porch), you typically find David sitting behind the low glass display case counter standing watch over his more valuable inventory. He offers a friendly hello and a ‘knowing’ smile, for he is aware (as you are about to find out), that ‘magic’ awaits you inside his store.

The room shown in the above photograph sits a few steps below the entrance, just beyond the signed editions and bargain closet where you will find just about anything culled from each and every section of the store’s inventory to make room for other items. The fiction (divided into mysteries, children’s, general fiction, and a very healthy section of classics) lines the perimeter of the floor space, with non-fiction (everything from arctic exploration to zebra appreciation) shelved on the spaces in between. Neatly stacked against the shelves are cartons of those items more recently obtained and are always worth digging into the boxes all the way to the bottom (where I have personally unearthed many books that I’ve purchased).

The store owner has been known to say to me, as I approached him with my selections, “Guess it was worth the drive.”, whereas I one day mentioned living out of state and always trying to put his store into my itinerary when I visited Maine. He’s quite knowledgeable about his inventory, and occasionally offers up his own experience with reading what I’ve selected to purchase for my own enjoyment. His friendly, no-pressure interaction with his customers (at least with me) always makes the conversation enjoyable, and he has even offered to try to find a book I might be looking for that he doesn’t happen to have and simply ‘set it aside’ for when I ‘come up again’.

I have yet to leave this store empty-handed, which to me always makes a stop there worthwhile. While I owe my successful shopping trips to the store in part to the two hour distance I live from the store and the fact that I (sadly) cannot visit it more often than I do, (therefore he always has plenty new for me to look at); it is also due in large part to the tremendous variety of books he carries, and the incredibly affordable pricing. While the shop does carry rare and antiquarian selections ranging in the hundreds of dollars in price; the average book will set you back only four to eight dollars apiece.

While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that moms are always right – in this instance, Mom didn’t lead me astray.

Located at 176 U.S. Route 1 (locals refer to it as ‘Old Route 1’) in Freeport, ME, The Freeport Book Shoppe is a reader’s paradise just waiting for you to pay a call. Hours are (at present) listed as:

Open year-round: Hours tend to be a little more flexible in the winter months.

Summer Hours: Monday through Saturday 9:30 AM – 5:30 PM
Sundays: By chance, usually 9:30 AM – 4:00 PM

Winter Hours: Monday through Saturday 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM
Sundays: By chance, usually 10:00 AM- 4:00 PM

 

Happy Reading!

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