9.03.2009

My 'Collection' of Emily Dickinson (Weekly Geeks 2009-33)

This weeks topic is one I'm probably not well qualified for:


So, Weekly Geeksters, tell us, do you have a collection, (or are you starting a collection,) of one particular book title? If so, what's your story? Why that book, and how many do you have, and what editions are they? Share pictures and give us all the details.

As a general rule, this is a poor topic for me. As I mentioned in my comments elsewhere, my WIFE has a ccollection that would probably qualify, as she now owns Harry Potter 1-7 in both hardback and paperback, because (no, I'm really serious) she likes to figure out what changes were made in the editing between the two editions. Yeah, my wife, TOTALLY kicks butt. She wants to get the British editions (which, she excitedly tells me, never even mention that Dean Thomas is black!) as well, so if there are any English friends out there, looking for a good idea for birthday presents...

But as a general rule, we don't keep dupes. There's a few books that I've given one edition to the boys, and kept one for us, but generally, if there is two copies, one of them goes to Half Price Books to fund purchases of other titles. The largest collection of any single book that I have (I think) is 2 books - however, I do have probably the distinction that those books are not only the same book, but the same EDITION of the book, and I actually intend to keep both, indefinitely. The book I've collected, then, would be the Johnson edited paperback edition of the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Like this one.

My original copy of Dickinson is (I think) the first book I ever paid for new. I bought it in the latter half of High School at the Barnes and Nobles on the west side of Madison, Wisconsin (an excellent Barnes and Nobles, btw, because it had a huge used book section). Over the next several years (continuing through today, I might add) Emily Dickinson has kept my head above water more than once. In fact, I would be bold enough to offer that thorugh the turbulent period between high school and today, when I was desperately trying to decide who I was, what I believed, and where I was going, Emily Dickinson is the one thing in my life that has not changed. The roots of everything I know and believe has gone topsy turvy so many times that I've exhaustedly given up on thinking that I am capable of any sort of solid, dependable soul, but Emily Dickinson has stood one, my one touchstone through it all.

I'm not one of those people who is clever enough to argue over the particular editions of books, or point out how cleverly a a particular editor might ocllect Dickinson's poems. So, I know that my description of my collection a few paragraphs back might sound snobby and uppity, how specific I'm being, like I'm showing off my knowledge fo the various incarnations of Emily Dickinson (if it's any comfort, I had to look up who the editor was so I could describe - the two editions of the complete Emily I've seen, in my head, are referred to as the picture-of-emily-and-big-block-letters edition and the flowers-on-the-cover-kind-of-like-nine-inch-nails-the-fragile edition). My affection for the particular edition of Dickinson I have has nothing to do with the editorial skills of Mr. Johnson. The real reason this particular one has stuck with me is it's size, shape and texture - or to be a little simpler, it's because this edition is the perfect book for hugging. In difficult moments, or even just moment's of apprehension or worry, there is something extremely comforting about having a nice, stout-sized, soft and not too slippery book to hold. For many-month periods of my life, in fact, my Emily has been my constant companion, put in the bottom of backpack under my schoolbooks, or now, tucked in beside my laptop (which means that the cover and first 20 or so pages are warm with processor heat, which makes the hugging even better).
Of course, constant use is hard on a book, and really the length of time my first Emily lasted is a testament to it's excellent construction, because I am no gentler with my books, I'm afraid, than I am with my friends. It's final trial was when I started to read it with the boys. As they started to get old enough to KIND OF understand poetry, we started reading a poem every night - they like Emily Dickinson poems because so many of them are riddles. So, every night, one of the boys would get to go grab my Emily, and pick a poem out of it for us to read. IT was one night when Laurence (my youngest) picked the book up and held it open while walking, that the horrible, terrible sound came - the tearing of soft, worn coverstock.
Laurence immediately knew it was a 'bad thing,' and I think he honestly thought he'd be in big trouble (a testament, unfortunately, to my over-snappishness as a parent). He wasn't, it wasn't his fault, and I told him so. The book was old, it had had it's day. But, still, there was something very painful seeing my Emily there with it's cover torn off. I honestly wasn't sure I'd even buy a new edition, for a long time. It was hard to do so, and I almost bough the aforementioned flowers-like-the-fragile edition, just because I didn't want to 'replace' my old friend. But, in the end, I didn't, I couldn't. From a selfish perspective, I've not gotten to the point where I still don't need a nice, stout-sized, soft and not too slippery book to hold. Knowing the endless flippant mutability of me, I can't imagine that I'll stop needing one any time soon. Perhaps, at the end of my life I'll have a whole shelf of old, abused copies (god forbid they ever stop printing this edition...).

6 comments:

Amanda said...

Wait - I thought he accidentally ripped it in the car on the way home from work one day? Back when we were still picking you up and dropping you off because we didn't have the second car yet?

PS - I'm glad I was able to find the same edition for you. :)

Jason Gignac said...

That right! The rip STARTED when he was carrying it at bedtime, but he did rip it off in the car. My bad.

Yup, Amanda's my hero :)

Rikki said...

What an enjoyable post. I like how you describe it as the perfect book for hugging (and warm with processor heat). You already inrtoduced my to Emily Dickinson, I think it's time to buy her complete poems.

Jason Gignac said...

Oh, I'm glad you liked it :), Ms Rikki. The purchase of the Complete Emily is an important day in anyone's life, I think :O :P.

Lois Kackley said...

What a delightful account of holding on to a book aka holding on to Dickinson. I know exactly what you mean!! I've just never read/heard anyone tell the story so well!! Thanks for the nostalgia, Jason. By the way - in the uppity department: Last year I splurged and got the 3-volume Franklin edition. You and your boys would have fum with its "extra stuff" like what alternate words ED was playing with in poems that survive in drafts. A lot of other information like telling what poems were sent where, etc.
http://www.facebook.com/groups.php#/group.php?gid=17866727747

Anonymous said...

I laughed when I saw this. My
Johnson edition finally just fell
apart into little bundles of pages.
Consider joining the Emily Dickinson International Society!