The Sunday Salon: The Totemic Book

I have been hitting thrift stores with a vengeance lately; I’m watching my money, it’s always an adventure, and you never know what you’ll find. For instance, one of my favorite t-shirts is a Duran Duran 2008 Red Carpet Massacre tour shirt, because every time I put it on to express some New Wave love, I wonder about who went to the concert, bought the shirt, and then donated it. Adorning the door to my room right now is a LP of She’s So Unusual, which I just had to buy because of both the cover art (I never realized Lauper was making such a serious face!) and because Sheba, the previous owner, has written her name on it. Every time I head out for the day, I wonder about how Sheba experienced the eighties and what lead her or her friends and family to donate the album. It’s questions like that that make me love used books and other books with stories.

Used Paperback

When I was in Macon at the beginning of the month, I swung by the Golden Bough, which is really a perfect bookstore, if you’re ever in the area. (Fun fact: Macon is the birthplace of the kazoo!) It’s narrow but deep, with shelves lining the entire shop and at least three domestic animals wandering around. Bookstores, especially used bookstores, are good for my soul, so I was taking my time wandering around and examining each shelf. I pressed my fingers to the few copies of Tolkien, as usual, but what made me start quietly screaming was my discovery of a copy of The Art of Pocahontas, one of those giant art books Hyperion published in the nineties for most of the Golden Age Disney films. It’s now sitting with the rest of my library in my parents’ house, with its torn cover and immaculate pages, save for one dog-eared page. And I think I love that book more because I found it in an out-of-the-way bookstore in Middle Georgia, where it had clearly been waiting for me.

Used Book Store 1

But the totemic book is not only the used book you buy, where you wonder about who owned or read this before you, how they got those coffee stains on the book (were they so engaged that they misjudged where the coffee was?), and why they decided they didn’t need to keep it anymore. We create our own totemic books. There’s the obvious method of getting a book signed—I still feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I remember that my copy of Anansi Boys has the word “you” in the dedication underlined, because Neil Gaiman thinks ahead, man, and I’m quite fond of my signed copy of There and Back Again. But, more often, we give these copies their own stories by simply owning and loving them. I have a copy of Wicked that I bought new from Books-a-Million (after reading half of it in the store) that got me through four years of high school and two years of debate (oh man, that was an awful time). I unfortunately missed an opportunity to get it signed by Gregory Maguire, but I still love it as much as my other special books, like my copy of Good Omens. (My mother forced me to read Silas Marner before I could read Good Omens; I read it, but I have willfully repressed any memory of the text.) By living with it, I’ve marked my copy, even if I didn’t write in it (blasphemy!); I’ve added a bit of story to a story that’s marked me.

This week has been… well, school, work, rehearsal, rinse, repeat, you know what I mean? I haven’t made any significant progress through Affinity, but I have read The Blacker the Berry, and I hope to step up my reading once my senior thesis’ first draft is done. Yikes. I did go see Cirque du Soleil’s Totem on Friday (I won tickets at Pride!), which I quite enjoyed, as well as discovering a new South Indian vegetarian restaurant. (Next up: Nepali!)

Pat at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist is giving away a George R. R. Martin bundle until an unspecified date. The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) Small Beer Press offers several of their books as free downloads, including Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners. If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

What your totemic books and what are their stories?

10 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: The Totemic Book

  1. I love the idea of Totemic books. I think I must have a few. I love thinking about media and the special stories attached, I have a similar thing going on with some music. Sometimes it is even more the personal situation than the book/movie/song itself that makes me love it, or at least there’s a certain balance.

    • Music, I think, is the easiest to do this with—I think only “Layla” and “Because the Night” retain their own inherent universes to me because every other song I encounter invariably gets associated with another text.

  2. I’m so going to start using the expression “Totemic books” in the future 😛 I definitely have quite a few myself – some are signed, others are special for other reasons. Having to move recently definitely helped me figure out what my Totemic books were.

  3. I suppose the book I have that has the most interesting back story is my copy of Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword. It’s a first edition and it’s signed by the author, but what makes it unique is that it once was the property of one of my favorite authors, Karl Edward Wagner. Wagner was the creator of the hero-villain Kane and was the editor of DAW Books’ Year’s Best Horror anthologies for fifteen years, as well as being considered one of the top writers of horror and fantasy in the 1970s-1980s. Wagner passed away in 1994. He listed the Broken Sword as his favorite fantasy novel, and through some lucky circumstances I was able to buy his copy. I own several other books that once belonged to Wagner, but this one means the most to me because it was his favorite.

  4. What a great way of expressing this about books that are extra special! I have some of those myself — it’s best when the books have stories attached to them. I don’t care that much about having things signed, but particular copies of books I love have become special just through my having owned them for a really, really long time.

  5. What came to mine straight away was a regular paperback that started my quest to learn about my family’s history. Now pretty battered (I must get a new copy as a back-up) but it caused me to start researching, visiting places, and has given me a direction to the student in me that wants to continue to PhD level.

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