Spring Cheever

Cheever20p1The 5:48

I was just coming on here to announce my plans to spend this season reading noted alcoholic and bi-sexual John Cheever’s short stories—one per day for the next two months—when I made one of those discoveries that so poorly sits with neurotic bibliophiles like myself.

Just as I was admiring my copy of Vintage International’s edition of The Stories of John Cheever—admiring its weight, comprehensiveness and inoffensive cover—I noticed that none other than the likes of the Library of America intends to publish their own version of his stories (along with a complete collection of his novels) this March. (Their release coincides with celebrated Richard Yates biographer Blake Bailey’s new work, Leave It To Cheever! Cheever: A life.)

I judge books by their covers, but also by their content, their editors, their typefaces and typesettings—even by their grade of paper; the less acid, the better. The Library of America publishes books with the most elegant covers, the most assured content, the most authoritative editors, faces and settings typed most legibly, all printed on paper that’s acid-free. When the gods read American authors, they read them in the Library of America.

And so do I. But is it worth it?

I am literally sitting here with John Cheever’s short stories in my lap and I want to read them. If I could magically substitute the LOA edition for my own, I would do it. But to actually acquire it, I would need to spend time (it doesn’t come out for another month) and money (the LOA is double the price of my own, which I already purchased). Getting a copy in Paris is no walk in the parc, and then, of course (and this is the hardest part), I would have to dispose of the copy I already have.

Before, I would have been willing to do all that. These days, I’m trying to be a more rational person. When my new copy of Lionel Trilling’s The Liberal Imagination was tragically trampled and stained a few weeks ago, I considered burning it so I wouldn’t feel irrational buying a new copy. Then I realized that burning a book because it’s back cover is slightly torn and its spine lightly browned is highly irrational in the first place and resigned myself to owning a damaged book. Now, with a little glue and a week under a stack of dictionaries, you can hardly tell the difference.

My relationship with books is a confused one. I want what’s inside them, after all, and if that’s truly my intention, then an ugly book, or a book with ruffled pages or a missing cover—even a book on acidic paper—shouldn’t really matter. I won’t be ashamed for feeling a bit of a collector’s particularity, but I never want to risk being more of a bibliophile than a philosopher.

And so, Autodidacts, today I’m going to read ‘Goodbye, My Brother,’ and one story every day for the next 60 days. If the ‘drugs are fit and the time agreeing,’ join me. If you don’t have a copy of The Stories of John Cheever, well, I’ll understand if you wait until March.

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~ by ohkrapp on January 28, 2009.

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