A Bit of a Chill at the Public Library

This week I was wandering through the stacks at the library hoping to find something GOOD to read. By “GOOD,” I mean that I just read Solar by Ian McEwan, and that any book that follows a read by Ian McEwan is naturally going to be inferior, because his novels are just so reliably fabulous. Naturally after reading McEwan, one’s standards increase a few notches for awhile, so just a casual wander through the stacks is usually not going to deliver much success. You need to be more purposeful and focused when looking, because it won’t be easy to read something that won’t be disappointing.

So I pose the question to myself . . . What great masters could I read that I haven’t already read much of? I’ve thought many times through the years about The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, which I read about 10 years ago. An odd, frightening, and uncomfortable novel, it’s stuck in my mind as one of those stories that I never completely figured out. OK! I think to myself at the library, I’ll see what Henry James books are here on the shelf.

And it turns out that there’s a great collection of James and I decide on a small copy of a short story (novella?) called The Aspern Papers.

But The Turn of the Screw is still on my mind. It reminds me vaguely (and somewhat inexplicably) of another book that has stuck with me through the years, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro, like James in The Turn of the Screw and Ian McEwan in everything he writes, shows such gorgeous restraint in refusing to fully reveal the what’s really going on psychologically–you have to make assumptions and come up with explanations for characters’ behaviors on your own. Anyway, after picking up The Aspern Papers, I meandered over the to “I” section to see what else was there by Ishiguro that I haven’t read.

I’d already read The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go, and When We Were Orphans, but sandwiched in with a couple of others was a collection of shorter stores, called Nocturnes:  Five Stories of Music and Nightfall. Ah! Short stories. Maybe I can read these on the plane to Italy next month, I thought. I picked up the book and two really James/Ishiguro/McEwan type things happened to me:

First, a library slip fell out from the book cover, from the last person who had checked out the book. On the checkout slip were three books: one by Ian McEwan, one Henry James, and one by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Second, I started reading the first story in Nocturnes to see what it was about . . . and it was about a young man in Venice, where I am going next month.

I don’t believe in divine intervention, the universe playing tricks on me, etc. I do, however, believe in pure coincidence. With all the things we do, chances are we’ll run into a few coincidences from time to time. And this was mine for the day. I thought it was a pretty good one.

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