Monday, June 7, 2010

Lost and Found

My current living situation is this: about three fourths of the books I own are stored in boxes in my garage. This is due, mostly, to having moved from a very large house in the rural midwest to a very modest-sized house in Anchorage.

I went out to the garage the other day searching for an anthology in which appears Michael Cunningham’s terrific story “White Angel.” This shouldn’t be so much a needle-in-the-haystack affair: there should be a whole box of anthologies. But I have not seen the box since we arrived here in Anchorage.

What I found instead was my collection of Canadian Alpine Journals, Dougal Haston and Peter Gillman’s, Direttisima, which I forgot I even owned, and which would have been invaluable a few months back when I was writing an essay on Haston. I also found one copy of my American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1970). I really like the 1970 edition because that’s the year I started paying attention to words. I actually have another copy of the same edition, so I can have one at my office and one at home. Thus: the other copy of the dictionary is missing. However, on the plus side, I located the third edition of the same dictionary, from 1992. This is my second favorite dictionary. Comparing definitions from these two dictionaries, published 22 years apart, is the best evidence I know to demonstrate that language is fluid, evolving (or, as some would have it, devolving). However, the largest book I own, or once owned, the Oxford English Dictionary, remains missing. I have the magnifying glass, though. I am trusting that it, and the duplicate American Heritage, are out there, along with my vintage Icelandic to English dictionary, which I love purely as an object in the world.

On the plus side I retrieved my mostly unread copy of Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory, as well as the 20th anniversary edition of Boulevard, which belongs at the office with the rest of the Boulevards. Finally, here is the long-lost Illustrated Guide to Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue by Tyson and Cleland which has the best drawings for making and attaching prussic slings, a task which for me never seems to become second nature and which I will be needing very soon for a Byron Peak attempt.

The only books I know for certain are lost were mailed here: one box arrived opened and half-empty. It had been filled with American Alpine Journals and now my collection has holes. The rest of the missing books aren’t really missing, I have faith in their presence out there among the rest of the human detritus for which there is no room indoors: bicycles, skis, wicker furniture, plastic tubs filled with random household goods, studded winter tires, including a set of four for a car we don’t even own. It’s a sad state of affairs, but temporary.

Oh, and I never found my “White Angel.” I found (miraculously) a copy in the library, but what I didn’t find in the library is another story, longer and sadder.


  1. I have three copies of that anthology that I just unpacked post-exodus. Would you like me to send you one? As it happens I still have a good dozen or so of your books--alas those I am not ready to give back yet. Regarding the fate of libraries, public and otherwise--oh, never mind. "White Angel" is a truly fine story--and I prefer it to its other incarnation as a chapter in one of his novels, the title of which I have forgotten. You'd never know it was meant as mere backstory and when forced to serve a larger narrative it turns to stone.

    Cheers--and welcome to this realm.

  2. Moving is hard on books. and The Strand have helped me fill in my books lost during the move.

  3. I grew up with that American Heritage dictionary. I loved that it was half my body long and a whole arm wide. I suspect that this is no longer the case.

    I moved from a cabin in Fairbanks with two suitcases and two boxes of books to England. There was some confusion about the books I left behind. It would seem the wrong ones ended up at Gulliver's Books.

    I cannot leave England because I fear the loss of the newly made collection.

  4. Hi American, I feel your pain. Actually, living in a smaller house is somewhat limiting, in a good way. But things do have a way of anchoring us, eh? Thanks for reading--