Extra-Literary Matters

As I mentioned a post or two back, when I was in Portland promoting my little book, On Conan Doyle, I stopped at the celebrated Powell’s bookstore. This afternoon—Monday, Dec. 5—I opened the package I had had sent and again admired my purchases: A handful of specialized journals about Conan Doyle and first editions of his book about reading, Through the Magic Door, and his 1924 autobiography Memories and Adventures.

As I did so, I suddenly began to wonder precisely why I’d bought these books. I certainly didn’t buy them to read—I’d already read them. I certainly didn’t need them for my Conan Doyle book—it was written. I don’t really buy for investment, so that wasn’t the reason either. So, why, I asked myself, had I shelled out some serious money for these two titles?

The root of the matter, I decided, was sentimentality. Here I was in Powell’s, in Portland, on a Conan Doyle book tour—I needed something appropriate as a kind of souvenir. These two books were among the most personal in Conan Doyle’s career and they would always remind me of this period in my own life. While I would certainly write again about the creator of Sherlock Holmes or his work, I was essentially looking for a memorial to the months when I was focused so intently on this project.

Do other members of the Reading Room use books as souvenirs or mementos? Do you ever buy particular authors or works for extra-literary reasons? Obviously, we sometimes upgrade from a paperback to a hardcover, or from a battered edition to a pristine copy. But I’m thinking of books as Proustian objects, meant to symbolize or recall some aspect of our lives, of our travels, of our obsessions. Do you ever think of books in this special way? Please share your stories.

Michael Dirda

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