I will often walk over to Half-Wit. It is laid out so that I can start with the science-fiction paperbacks, and so I usually do. And when I do, a memory arises of happy days spent reading some of these very paperbacks.
I remember that I used to drink tea with milk and sugar all the time when I was a kid. I had a largish mug that one day broke when I fell while cleaning it, which was then kindly replaced for me with an even larger mug–the stein kind of thing with enameled foam perpetually overflowing it. Those were happy afternoons of reading, specially during the rainy season in Mexico City.
And I remember, as I glance over the spines, the joy of so many perfect books. There are books I can’t find anymore I remember once reading and enjoying a lot. One was by Tanith Lee and all her stuff looks like trash to me now, but there was one about a guy who had to use a skull as the sounding board on his harp; can’t find it anymore, but I have good if cloudy memories of it.
I have, however, grown reluctant to go
searching for finding those perfect books now, and it is seldom–compared with how much time I look over them–that I even take a book from the shelf, let alone read it. Some of it is that that part is over. I could enjoy more then because I was not as critical as I now am. I think it is part of the melancholy of wisdom. Perhaps you think that should not be regretted, it may be that my melancholy is sentimental–though I doubt it; it is not a desire still to think substandard books are perfect, but the realization of how few there really are.
I’ll always read the Lord of the Rings as a perfect book, and even The Hobbit, wishing for no change (Tolkien’s opinion to the contrary notwithstanding). There are still afternoons ahead for me of those. But there are no longer afternoons, I think, ahead of me enjoying The Elfin Ship or The Disappearing Dwarf, or Elizabeth Boyer’s Scandinavian stuff. There are some of those I don’t regret not having anymore: David Eddings, for example (which, come to think of it, I most spent my youth with). The fourth posture is ambivalence at the memory: Neil Hancock, for example. I don’t know if I would or would not like that back.
Is it the idea which could be perfected? Is it not like Harry Potter which is fine though perhaps a revised edition would be better, and like the Hunger Games where a revised ending and revised grammar and punctuation would raise it to a perfect book? I think that’s why I end up with four categories: because there are four things in my memory when I’m looking at the rows and rows of spines. Those that are, those that might be, those that never will be, and those about which I cannot tell.