Monday, January 10, 2005

Invocation (Sing! Oh Muse...)


Thanks for stopping to read my book related blog. What you should know about me is this: I am a bookseller in New England for over 12 years now although I have been a bibliophile and a bibliomaniac (hence "BookKook") since I was old enough to hold a book in my hands. I have the enviable position of making my living selling books which are also my passion and sometimes my obsession.

This blog should be about why books are important and enjoyable and about my (mis)adventures as a bookseller. I hope to bring you stories, reviews and recommendations and to keep you informed of what happens in my end of the book world.

Please note that any postings are of MY experience and not of my employer. Blame me if it’s awful and lavish praise on me if it's good. I hope to keep you entertained and informed, so wish me luck!

(Just a little invocation to get things going. I know, I know. Poetry--sheer snobbery.)

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry—
This Travers may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll—
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human soul.

--Emily Dickinson

Dickinson (1830-1886) is one of my favorite poets though I often times find her as elusive as I find her playful. She was born, lived and died in Amherst, Massachusetts, and did not take up writing poetry until she was in her 30’s. She became a sort of a recluse, isolating herself physically from the outside world but composing 1,775 poems between the 1860’s until the time of her death in 1886. Her use of language and odd phrasing and metaphysical themes has made her one the the greatest American poets, if not one of the greatest women poets of all times.

Unknown in her lifetime, she was posthumously famous after her sister arranged for the publication of Dickinson’s work with the assistance of, and meddling from, an editor named Thomas Wentworth Higginson who altered the poems’ words, rhythms, and even line spacing to make the poems less rough and wild. Poems By Emily Dickinson was published in 1890 and became the literary event of the year. This bowdlerized, or Higginsonized, version turns up in many places especially in thrift or bargain editions. This is not the Dickinson you want to buy.

I own two copies of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson edited by Thomas H. Johnson. One was a cheap paperback I bought used and the other is a recent hardcover edition I treated myself to last April after I looked at my used copy and the forest of paper bookmarks sticking out of the pages I use to mark favorite poems. The hardcover Complete Poems (ISBN: 0316184144) is $35 while a paperback version (ISBN: 0316184136) is only $19.95. Both are published by Little, Brown & Company and contain the 1,775 poems as they were written by the poet. I recommend either very highly.

For those of you unwilling to make a commitment of that much odd dashes in their verse, try Final Harvest (ISBN: 0316184152) also by Little, Brown; or the children’s Emily Dickinson's Letters to the World (ISBN: 0374321477) Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16, illustrated wonderfully by Jeanette Winter; or Dickinson: Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets Series) (ISBN: 0679429077) $12.50 from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

In fact just get everything in the Pocket Poets’ Series -- the books are small and beautiful, hardcover and inexpensive and really do fit in your pocket. I own several and if I had the money would snatch up every single one of those little gems. Here is the complete listing at the Random House site: Check out some of their great anthologies in the series too.

Just what ever you do, for the love of God, don’t buy any defective Dickinson edited by Higginson and Todd.