Thursday, November 24, 2011

my book obsession: mrs. dalloway

I'm sure you may have gleaned this from past posts, but I really am a book addict.  I've always said that if anything were to bankrupt me, it wouldn't be clothes, or shoes, or purses, or whatever.  It would be books.  Books are generally the only thing that I don't feel guilty about buying, when really I should.  I mean, I'm not rolling in gold over here.  Really I should be saving up all of my money, but frankly, I can't resist a good book. Or even a book that has the potential to be terrible, but has a really great cover.

But what makes this addiction even worse, is that I buy multiple copies of my favourite books.  Yes. If I'm perusing a used book store (or a non-used bookstore, actually), and I come across a beautiful copy of a book that I already own, I'll buy it.

Case in point: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.

These are actually not all of my copies.  One or two of them have disappeared into the abyss of our basement, which is unfortunate, because my favourite copy is missing. It was tiny, and red, with gold-edged pages.  I also included my e-reader version of it, just for fun.  I'll never give up my paper books, but the convenience of my Kobo is awesome.  I don't know about you guys, but I'm really indecisive when it comes to choosing books to bring with me on trips and whatnot, so having hundreds at my disposal wherever I go is pretty cool.  But I digress.

This copy is the oldest one I have.  I think it was printed around 1954.  The cover is unlike any I've ever come across before, so obviously I had to have it.  I love the bright, graphic aspects of it.  All the other covers I've seen are muted in their tones.  So it's cool to have a nice contrast between my versions.  There was a first edition on Ebay for quite some time (it may still be there, for all I know), which I mooned over for a long time.  Unfortunately, $900 for a single book was where I had to draw the line.  I would definitely feel guilty for emptying my bank account for a book I probably could never open for fear of pages tearing or being stained.  A girl can dream though.

I stumbled onto Mrs. Dalloway in high school.  I'm sure I saw it referenced somewhere (it might have been the movie "The Hours"), and thought I'd give it a read.  I immediately fell in love with it -- but that doesn't mean it was easy to get through. There were a lot of times where I'd have to stop, go back, and re-read a passage in order to really understand what was happening.  But there was something about the language of this book that I loved; it had such an incredible flow, even though punctuation was scarce sometimes.  The characters were beautiful and poetic.  Septimus Warren Smith, the Great War veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is one of the most inspirational characters for me.  I won't spoil it for you if you haven't read it, but there is some really incredible writing connected with Septimus in particular, and it really sticks with you.

In case any of you are 20th century literature skeptics, just let me tell you that I am too.  There are very few books written after 1900 and before 1970 that I care for particularly.  For me though, Virginia Woolf is one of the major exceptions.  There is something about her writing that is both definitive of the time she is writing in, and transcendent through the decades that followed.  She isn't writing about flappers smoking cigarettes and being overbearingly pretentious (read: the precursor to the hipster).  She's writing about real people and real issues. 

That said, I totally get it if you hate Virginia Woolf too. To each their own.

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