At eighteen I was introduced first to Jack Kerouac, then Henry Miller, after that Charles Bukowski, and then naturally, Arthur Rimbaud. All of these writers affected and influenced me. I became obsessed with Rimbaud and started reading everything I could get my hands on. Initially I found the books slowly, at used book stores, most often the Strand in New York. I then worked in a Barnes and Noble and had access to their book database. I special ordered book after book. I spent hundreds of dollars. Once ebay was founded, I began ordering books on there. I have quite a collection and I am extremely proud of it.
At 738 pages, Tom Wolfe’s I am Charlotte Simmons follows the tribulations, confusions, betrayal, failures, and successes of seventeen year old Charlotte Simmons. Wolfe also delves into the politics of fraternities, sports, bullying, racism, and poverty. And just like The Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe adeptly creates nearly two dozen characters that are easily remembered. He spends years researching his books to create a world that moves efficiently and realistically. His books are always page-turners, regardless of the topic. I read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test years ago and honestly didn’t think I would like anything else by him. I was thrown off by what I thought was a conservative republican old man who wears flamboyant white suits. But everything he writes has an objectivity and if it’s possible, simultaneously an empathy. It seems contradictory but all of his characters have accountability and reasoning. His female characters are solid—some are strong and some are just as weak and pathetic as his men. Even after reading (and loving) The Bonfire of the Vanities, I doubted Wolfe’s ability to write about a teenage girl entering college. Happily, I was wrong. He wrote so well that Charlotte stuck with me when I wasn’t reading the book and will forever be with me. I don’t even know if I like Charlotte but I understood her.
One of my favorite things to do is look for books at thrift stores. It’s a bit compulsive; I start to wonder if I’m missing out on great finds if I miss a week. The majority of books I buy are used. It’s comforting to take home a used book. Perhaps it was misunderstood by the previous owner who didn’t recognize its beauty. Or perhaps the previous owner did love it but had to donate it because of a move. Either way, there is solace in giving a new home to an old book. That is the point of books, they are whole worlds that live on despite the author, publisher, owner, and reader.
This year I started thrifting before Thanksgiving. I scored some great finds for my friends’ gifts. The holidays are about spending time with people you love and respect. Giving gifts is super fun but sometimes unintentionally induces stress over what to buy and how much to spend. Giving a clean, used book is a great present that costs less than a well drink.
I just wanted to share some great reads with the people who make my life better.