Sunday, September 18, 2011

Books I Have Given Away

At the end of PVG’s first year at my former place of employment, I presented him with a copy of A Wild Sheep Chase. For a while, it was my go-to gift book. Not only does it give a suitable introduction to Haruki Murakami (who’s probably my favorite writer), but, on this occasion, I wanted to remind P. that it was all “a wild goose sheep chase.” (And in that sense, the English translation of the title of 羊をめぐる冒険 gave it an extra colloquial flavor not in the original title.)

For a while, B. (WR, Jr.), P. (FJSR) and I had (and, at that time, probably the only) North American copies of Norwegian Wood (the translation by Alfred Birnbaum). I had asked a friend of mine to send me 3 copies of the 2-volume Kodansha paperback edition from Tokyo. Vintage finally acquired the rights to the Jay Rubin translation and published it in the US in 2000.

One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read a couple of times the Rabassa translation before I started to give it to various friends. (I have even given a Chinese translation to my Taiwanese cousin Kevin, but I must say that the Chinese translation was horrible!)

When I left Cambridge, Massachusetts for the ivory towers of the University of Chicago, I gave DBAJ most of my science fiction collection. Years later, when D & MRJ. (now married and with compounded last names) visited me in New York, I gave M. my copy of an English translation of Half of Man is Woman. M. lost it on a NYC subway car (and now a new copy of this paperback is listed for $82.27 on amazon dot com).

I gave DS an English translation of Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum, and, after he read it, he gave me a copy of Pather Panchali. (A Bengali classic for a modern Chinese epic). I also gave EAS the same Howard Goldblatt translation of Red Sorghum, and he blamed me for not being able to drink red wine for months.

To AD, RG, MF, … I gave Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land. RG was annoyed when he first realized that it was, after all, not fiction. (“The slave of MS H.6 first stepped upon the stage of modern history in 1942. His was a brief debut, in the obscurest of theatres …”)

To KKY, most recently I gave books by Peter Hessler.

I gave AK a copy of River Town, but he thought was a loan and gave it back to me. I gave another copy to CN. I bought a used copy of River Town on alibris recently and plan to give it to away as a belated birthday or an early Christmas present.

I gave my own copy of Cryptomonicon to T. (AGF). (In return, T. gave me a copy of The Shadow of the Wind in anticipation of my trips to Barcelona.) I bought a few more copies of Cryptonomicon and have given all but one away.

I gave LPW my copy of Guns, Germs and Steel, Greg Egan’s Incandescence and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She bought copies of GGS and Incandescence, gave my copy of Incandescence back to me and gave me a new copy of GGS. Now that copy of Incandescence is sitting in Shanghai in DC’s office, and a brand-new GGS is on (seemingly permanent) loan to KL.

To TC, I gave Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Possession, …, on her birthdays over the years.

To Sandra and Alissa, I gave Percy Jackson & the Olympians, The Wee Free Men and Nicholas in Trouble for Christmas 2009.

To Ryan, I gave The Complete Calvin and Hobbes for Christmas 2007.

To Tiffany Brooke, I gave, among many other books, Banner in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Chronicles of Narnia, and various volumes from the Harry Potter and the Petit Nicholas series. A copy of The Alchemist is also sitting in one of the bookcases in our Beijing apartment for if and when Tiffany shows up next.

Lately I have given out copies of Cloud Atlas (to ATS, MB, …) and, when I didn’t have a copy handy, have told various friends that it’s the book to read.

To my wife, on one of my visits from Cambridge UK, I brought The Chinese Century (when I was in the UK and the Spence book came out there first). Just to name a few other books that I have given her: Jon Lee Anderson’s biography of Che Guevara, William Hinton’s The Great Reversal, National Geographic’s The Photographs, The Complete New Yorker, Chinese Propaganda Posters, … On our one year anniversary, I gave her The Days Are Just Packed, and wrote opposite the frontispiece a quote from a Robert Browning poem.

But I am always drawn back to the one children’s book I most often give away. Emily Cheney Neville’s It’s Like This, Cat.

Some times, even now, when I am in a pensive mood, as I look out of a window or a doorway or as I stand at the threshold of a door or a gateway, I envision myself in that pose. I’ve never lived in Gramercy Park---the closest was my 4 years at Stuy or my years in Chelsea---and when I first read the book as a kid, had no idea where Gramercy was. But, for some reason, when I think of explaining New York to friends, when I start with “It’s like this …,” (when there are so many other lines I could start with) I would always have this image in the back of my mind.

Miscellany and Afterthoughts. Of course, by now, all my books are my wife's books.

Think tannin for the reason that EAS couldn't drink red wine after reading Red Sorghum. Think tannin and how the novel's protagonist accidentally made the best sorghum wine...

Maybe CF will finally read It's Like This, Cat.

I wrote this blog not only to remind myself of my bibliophile friends, but also as a warm-up piece for the upcoming Stuyvesant HS reunion.


Madeleine Rothberg said...

Good news! Half of Man is Woman is not lost. It was on the shelf across the room from the sci fi collection.

Bad news! It is no longer worth $80. More copies must have flooded the market since last time you looked.

Let me know if you'd like to read it again and I'll bring it next time we get to see you.

Madeleine Rothberg said...

Also, great list of kids books! S. has never laughed as loud as she does reading Petit Nicholas. I sent her your link to It's Like This, Cat.

Allen Kuo said...

tried to read as many Newberry books as I could when I was in elementary school- knew of "It's Like This, Cat" from the lists, but never got my hands on it (we were probably deprived in New Orleans... :) ) Probably would have been a great book. Didn't know it was set in the City.

Allen Kuo said...

was scared that you were about to say River Town was a loan, not a gift, and I never gave it back !