What's Old Is New
On Margaret Moser's bedside books, older is better
By Margaret Moser,
7:13PM, Thu. Jul. 28, 2011
The only cleaning up I did here was move the front stack of books from the footstool beside my bed to the nightstand. My books remain adult versions of cuddly toys I can't sleep without.
The titles alone tell you my areas of interest, and my nearly complete lack of interest in modern fiction or contemporary writers. The lone current title in the stack, nonetheless, relates completely, if roundabout, to those longtime interests.
ON THE NIGHTSTAND: To Marry An English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace, 1989 The Celtic Day Book, 1998 Green Darkness by Anya Seton, 1973
Wow, suddenly I feel like I am caught naked. In my Second Life, I like historical roleplay in centuries past - Ireland in the 1790s, to be exact - so I do a lot of historical research for fun. That's really all To Marry An English Lord and Celtic Day Book are about, scores from a long-forgotten trip to Half Price Books, where I still buy more books than on Amazon - my love of books is also physical.
But Anya Seton's Green Darkness - that's telling on me. It's one of my all-time favorite books by my favorite author. Seton wrote on a variety of time periods and imbuing each of her novels with memorable characters and well-researched locations. Though she preferred to call her mannered and elegant writing "biographical novels," she is regularly cited among romance readers and historical romance novelists as being the best.
Green Darkness was Seton's last but greatest full-length novel. Its weaving of reincarnation and reconciliation from a centuries-old tragedy to modern times has riveted readers for decades. The intrigue of connecting the past characters with their present-day counterparts amid the tumultuous events of 16th century England is as much of its tragic allure as the doomed romance between the young heroine Celia de Bohun and a priest, Brother Stephen. This particular volume is a first edition of the NYT bestseller, and I acquired it inscribed by the author, who died in 1990.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, 1955 The Crofter & The Laird by John McPhee, 1969 The Oxford Companion to Irish History 1998 London by Edward Rutherford Life by Keith Richard, 2010
When I discovered eBay in the late 90s, I bought back my childhood books. The Whitman series was a favorite, and when I entered that horses-and-high-heels stage, Black Beauty won out over National Velvet. I bought this copy recently at an antique store in Winnie, hence its place on top.
The Oxford Companion to Irish History was another Half Price score, or so I believed. The half-Irish blood in me keeps wanting to know more, so I'd plucked this from the stacks in my home library a few months ago and kept it within reach and bookmarked. I referenced it more than a few times before I noticed an inscription from my dear friend Chris Gray: "Roleplaying, research, or settling a bar bet at Fado, I hope this comes in handy. Merry Christmas 2002." Indeed!
I bought The Crofter & The Laird by John McPhee by mistake, but now ever-so-grateful because it fills in the literary slot that most people expect a writer to have at bedside, but is absent in mine. McPhee's return to his Scottish roots is concise, pointed, and with no waste of words. As an aside, the bookmark has an oval of Fragonard's "Girl Reading"; a reproduction of it hung in my bedroom for years when I was young. I like bookmarks too.
I can't get enough of Edward Rutherford. London is in the stack though I just finished it again for the fourth time and am really reading Sarum, in yet another unseen stack under my bed. In the same way that Seton brings to life real people in fictional settings, so Rutherford plucks just a few threads of time and thus creates a rich tapestry of primal beauty and sometimes unpleasant images that nonetheless feel true.
Finally, there's Life by Keith Richards, which I am still muddling through since I began in January. That's not bad - most of my favorite books I read in short, nightly bursts, my lengthy days of lazing with a book long ago supplanted by playing on the internet, but it's true I should have finished it by now. I guess I am not so gobsmackingly bowled over by it, though it still has my attention. The press hoo-rah about it pretty much buzzkilled any surprises in it for me, and now and then I wonder just what makes it so gawdawfully hard to live with success.
Keith Richards would hardly know what to make of Anya Seton's Celia de Bohun. On the other hand, she trod the same streets of London, 400 years before, so she likely knew as much about street fighting men as he.