Even though I own a Kindle now, my favorite way of shopping for books is still browsing old paperbacks, preferably the ones that sell for half the publisher's price. I see this as a game because, obviously, the further back I go in years, the cheaper the books are. If I go with foreign paperbacks (including British/and or other English-language publishers working with non-U.S. currency), there's a chance I might get even lower than half-price due to exchange-rate confusion at the cash register. A couple of days ago I dug up four paperbacks for $5, including a copy of Nelson Algren's Own Book Of Lonesome Monsters with an original price of $1.25 and a Woolworth's sale sticker on the cover!
I started to feel nostalgic, though I've never been in a Woolworth's in my life. I tried to think about why this was.
I have a 1962 paperback edition of Lolita with loud, gaudy lettering that proclaims itself "the most talked-about novel of the generation!"
Large print saves the eyes, but books used to be more charming and frivolous. Now you can hardly say, "I read a novel last week" without someone proclaiming, "Good for you!"
I've been thinking about money a lot lately, mostly due to the fact that I'm looking for opportunities to spend less of it. I've always been both good and bad about money: good in that I don't spend money I don't have, bad in that I'm not exceptionally frugal-minded, in terms of searching out the most bang for my buck, except in closed scenarios like the one above.
There are a few reasons for this:
a) Time is money, and I often prefer to convert the latter to the former.
b) The philosophy/approach/game of frugality can be taken to a disgusting level, for example, trying to get the best "deal" on one's life.
All the same, I could stand to be more aware of how much I have in my checking account at any given time, and to have my life be more organized in general. I've been thinking about how money, despite often being thought of as primarily a necessity and an annoyance, can have a complex and special relationship with the nature (rather than just the quality) of one's life. Many literary plots are textured with money. Characters' actions are often driven, colored and enhanced by the need for money. It strikes me that being dirt poor and starving or filthy rich with little to live for besides one's investments are probably two of the most uninteresting ways to get through the day-to-day.
When I think about Ulysses, one of the first things that comes to mind is Stephen Dedalus mentally going over how much he owes various people, wondering if he should spend some of his pay on a dentist. In a book that gives a large amount of attention to the inner ruminations of people, money casts light on their other thoughts and feelings; literally, in one case. There is a scene that closes with an image of Stephen's employer, the self-satisfied and anti-Semitic Mr. Deasy, on whose "wise shoulders" the "sun flung spangles, dancing coins." It's a graceful image that follows unexpectedly in the wake of a racist comment. Logically, one could find something sinister in it: Stephen has money on the brain and is cognizant of the laughing, gold-bedecked Deasy as his controlling superior. But I am mostly inclined to see it as a light authorial touch, a step back, a gentle reminder that this is Joyce's story and it is time to move on to the next chapter. Also, we see that Deasy can't keep the whole world, even that of finances, in his "savingsbox." It eludes him. The ethereal coins illuminate and soften the preceding text and take us away from the school, following Stephen as he goes about the rest of his day.