Today, after a long day of work, I got out of the house for another round of Burgess hunting.
What is Burgess hunting? Any bibliophile will understand it once I lay down the experiential cards. If you’re as perfervid a reader as I am, you probably have an author who is right now, as we speak, on the cusp of going out of print (save perhaps two major titles that have managed to endure), who may have turned out quite a number of volumes, and who, by some strange combination of ardor and serendipity, you have somehow been able to find through recurrent visits to various used bookstores.
For me, that author (right now) is Anthony Burgess. If I am flying across the country, invariably, one of the books I pack with will be a Burgess paperback. Even a bad Burgess is dependable and good for at least ten good gags and twenty words I’ve never encountered before.
This evening, I located four books I had not read for a remarkably thrifty price. It was a steal, although a steal that only I would value. And I have every faith, based on my stubborn peregrinations into tome depositories, that I will locate each and every volume, save perhaps two or three which I will have to special order, once I give up the ghost. Ordering thee books online is simply too unaccomplished a task to boast about. There is a sense of adventure and a strange accomplishment in going into a musty bookstore, talking with a clerk, and emerging with recherche volumes which nobody else will value.
Chances are, if you are scouting out an author along these lines, that nobody else is as mad about him (or her) as you are. In my case, aside from the remarkable Jenny Davidson, I seem to be the only American litblogger interested in Burgess. But I’m determined to track down nearly every book he wrote (although purchasing the rare and infamous The Worm and the Ring, the novel that was pulled for libel, is out of the question unless I strike it rich, an unlikely prospect with the current manner of doing things).
(And it was with considerable giddiness that I received the news that Anthony Burgess’s masterpiece, Earthly Powers, tied with Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children for third place in the Guardian’s question to 150 literary types, offered in response to the New York Times poll. The man still has some staying power in him yet.)
But I put forth the question to readers: Who is the author whose complete works you hunt down with zeal and alacrity and who nobody but you understands?
© 2006, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.