March 15, 2011


I wrote a blog earlier about the author Haruki Murakami and his novel “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle which impressed me as being unique among the books (Blog: 1/28/2011). As its tale continued to haunt me, I went to the used bookstore the other day to see if I could find another of his novels. The clerk who assisted me smiled when I told him what I was looking for and warned that Murakami was very popular and because of the high turnover, I’d be lucky to find a used copy. On that day he was right. Still, I returned to the shop on two more occasions and managed, at last, to find a copy of his first novel, “Norwegian Wood.” The book was battered, almost beyond recognition, but as I looked through it, I could see that though pages were torn none of them were missing.  Given its condition, one could only speculate that its previous owner was a world traveler who had carried his treasure across swamps and barren desserts or that it had suffered not one but many owners, all of them coffee lovers as the cover was badly stained.

(courtesy Andrey Kiselev)

That a book in this condition would be found on a retail shelf came as a surprise.  Certainly a library would have committed it to the flames long ago, thinking it a specimen too shabby to circulate. A charity shop might have sold it for 25-cents, but this book bore the remarkable price of $7.50. When I questioned the clerk at the register to ask if there was some mistake, she shrugged and said, “It’s what the market will bear.” Then she held out her hand and waited, a signal that I should either step out of line or burrow into my wallet for the requisite amount of cash. I did the latter though Barnum’s words reverberated in my head: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Turning from the counter with my purchase, the man in line behind me sounded conciliatory. “It’s a good book,” he chirped. “You’ll like it… except it’s awfully sad.”

I thanked him for his encouragement but as I walked away, my heart sank. I had not only purchased a book so battered its author might not recognize it but also one that was “awfully sad.”  

On my walk home, I made a bargain with myself. If I liked “Norwegian Wood, then out of compassion I’d stand it beside the other books in my cherished collection and give it a permanent home. These tattered remains with its “awfully sad,” story should, I thought, have a happy ending.