Sunday, July 22, 2012

Item From the Past: Lady With Lapdog

I've been a few places over the years, and I've almost always taken a book along, or acquired one or more during the trip, if the trip is long enough. They're as essential as good shoes, especially if you're traveling alone. What you're reading gets bundled up afterward with the destination.

For example, Lady With Lapdog and Other Stories. On the inside cover of this edition of I wrote, "26 July 1983 Rome." I bought it at an English-language bookstore near the Spanish Steps. It's a Penguin Classics edition of a translation originally published in 1964. Penciled on the first page is, I think, the price: "5550." That would be 5550 lira, or about $3.70 at the time. I remember reading it on the train to Florence and, once I got there, spending part of an afternoon on the grounds of the Pitti Palace reading some of the stories.

I still have it. The book is a little frayed but the pages not so yellow. Every now and then I read something out of it -- "Ward 6" more than any of the other stories, when I'm in the mood for a large helping of Russian darkness, a tale set in the loony bin of a provincial hospital. It remains one of my favorite short stories. Later, I found out that it was mocking some of Tolstoy's ideas, though I'm not steeped enough in those ideas to fully appreciate what Chekhov was up to. Even later, I also got a kick out of learning that the psychiatric facility that Dr. House spent some time in was Ward 6.

Other books I bought or found or were given that summer -- and in one case, lost -- included Green Hills of Africa, one of Hemingway's lesser efforts; Tales of the Unexpected, a Roald Dahl collection with a high creep factor; By the Green of Spring, a sprawling WWI soap-opera novel; and Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad. I didn't finish that last one, not because it wasn't interesting -- and how is it that Conrad didn't speak any English until he was a grown man? -- but because I left it somewhere, maybe on a bench. That summer I spent a good chunk of time on Euro-benches, reading.



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