Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Daisies opening in sly lust

I'm just going to say it: I think Stella Gibbons was a comic genius, in particular, a genius of the funny/mean variety (my favourite, as you know). It's disturbing to me that of all the novels she wrote, only Cold Comfort Farm is still in print. Not only that: while the TPL has many of her books, except for Cold Comfort Farm, they're all represented in single copies at the non-circulating Toronto Reference Library. Le sigh.

I may be forced to spend heaps of cash buying her other books on the interwebs because, you see, Stella Gibbons wasn't just funny and mean; she was also funny and mean about books, and a damned good writer to boot.

Cold Comfort Farm
tells the story of Flora Poste who at 19, having recently been orphaned, decides that "whereas there still lingers some absurd prejudice against living on one's friends, no limits are set, either by society or by one's own conscience, to the amount one may impose upon one's relatives" (p. 13).

All spoilers from here on in!
Having dropped this sage tidbit on her friend Mrs. Smiling, Flora promptly writes to all her eligible relations and decides, upon receiving a number of offers, to go to the Starkadders in Sussex, who inhabit the justly named Cold Comfort Farm. As someone who likes things to be very tidy and proper, Flora finds herself with a great deal of work to do, for all of said relations turn out to be terrifyingly hilarious character types drawn from the kinds of novels earnestly penned by Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence. There are earthy folks, wild poetry-writing folks, over-sexualized folks, and emotionally imbalanced almost incestuous folk. For Flora, this simply won't do, and so she commences helping everyone liberate themselves from the bonds of family, the land, and novelists who may arguably have no sense of humour whatever. (Not that I don't enjoy Hardy and Lawrence; I do. But you must admit, they're both rather dour.)

Gibbons won me over with her dedicatory epistle in which she outlines how her book will serve as an antidote to those turn of the century novels so invested in Meaningfulness and Spiritual Struggles. She also helpfully notes that what she considers to be the "finer passages" in the book have been marked with stars (p. 6). And oh, friends, the passages she marks with stars are truly brilliant in their bitchiness a la making fun of the staid Hardy and Lawrence and their ilk. For example:
At the farm, life burgeoned and was quick. A think, shameless cooing was laid down, stroke on stroke, through the warm air from the throats of the wood-pigeons until the very atmosphere seemed covered with a rich patina of love. The strident yellow note of the cockerel shot up into the sunshine and wavered there, ending in a little feather-tuft of notes. Big Business [the bull at Cold Comfort] bellowed triumphantly in the great field. Daisies opened in sly lust to the sun-rays and rain-spears, and eft-flies, locked in a blind embrace, spun radiantly through the glutinous air to their ordained death. (p. 193)
I am so happy right now. I can't stop giggling at this novel's sheer abundance of hilarity. Besides Gibbons' sending up of Hardy and Lawrence, I think she was also sending up Austen, which is likely not news to anyone but I haven't read anything about her or this book excepting the distressing news noted above, i.e., that all her other books are out of print, and that she makes fun of Hardy and Lawrence. I'm pretty sure I would have gotten the Hardy/Lawrence thing if I hadn't read about it.

The novel's main character, Flora Poste, is to me the most un-Austen-ish character imaginable but also and more specifically, the quintessential anti-Emma. Flora intrudes smoothly and intently into everyone's business precisely in order to change their lives in ways she sees fit but unlike the bumbling and annoying Emma, Flora is always fantastically and gracefully successful. More importantly, there are absolutely no lessons to be learned here; Flora is very charmingly pure id, as are all the characters around her and she simply helps them to fulfill their desires. And her desire for order having been satisfied she makes haste to boot it back to London (in style, of course).

Unlike Austen, Gibbons doesn't allow her characters to embody some heavy-handed pedagogical lesson and unlike Hardy and Lawrence, she doesn't allow her characters' pleasures to be in any way diminished by either spiritual concerns or consequences. Cold Comfort Farm is a good romp and a mighty fine satire.

So, fellow babies, I am off to a cottage for a few days where there will be no interwebs access whatsoever. I plan to loll about and read, perhaps a vampire novel and definitely Charlotte Bronte's Villette for Rohan's summer reading event at The Valve. But mostly it'll be about the eating and sleeping and hopefully playing card games or summink.

Friday, 26 June 2009


Friends, the hellish hot heat in Toronto is addling my brain. I tried to write a post about Akira Yoshimura's wonderful novel Shipwrecks yesterday and was just too zoned out. I woke up later in the day when I heard that Michael Jackson, the soundtrack of my childhood, had died but that was exactly the wrong kind of waking up for writing book reviews. I ate a bowlful of chocolate chip cookies and then spent hours chatting with similarly startled friends who consoled themselves and me by teaching me how to do the moonwalk.

But about the novel in question. My friend Vee suggested this book to me years ago and I've had it in my jealous possession for a long time, but you know me and my neuroses - I basically have to let a book simmer for a few years and can only choose it if I look at it only out of the corner of my mental eye. Direct eye contact leads to shame and self-loathing and the need to hide in an Ellis Peters or P.G. Wodehouse novel or something.

In any case, Shipwrecks was worth the wait. The cover sensationalizes the story quite unnecessarily, loudly proclaiming that this is "A THRILLING TALE OF MURDER AND RETRIBUTION SET ON THE WILD SEACOAST OF MEDIEVAL JAPAN." Wow! I expected pirates and people being strung up and blood everywhere and lots of weeping and wailing and maybe even some supernatural stuff, a la From Dusk Till Dawn.

In fact, this book is a very quiet one which tells the story of young Isaku's hard scrabble life by the sea and how he, his family, and his tiny village spend literally all their time trying to draw enough sustenance out of the sea and the barren rocks to survive. Many people send their children or spouses off to be indentured labourers for years at a time as the only alternative to the entire family starving to death.

The only respite the village ever gets from their horrible life, which they cling both tenderly and tenaciously to - their love of their land is personal and ancient and profound and therefore impossible to abandon in favour of more hospitable living conditions elsewhere - is O-fune-sama. O-fune-sama refers to the shipwrecks that sometimes occur on the village's shoreline, as the result of the sharp reefs hidden beneath the water and the village's policy of luring ships in during storms by keeping fires burning on the beach. When ships founder there, the villagers pillage the ship and use everything on board; they also kill any crew members so that word of their practice won't leak out. Isaku, at 10 years old, witnesses and benefits from the village's first O-fune-sama in 8 years but disaster isn't long in following their new found prosperity...

What I think I loved most about this book is how gently Yoshimura treats his characters. They do unspeakable things but he completely normalizes the human tendency to do absolutely anything to survive without either condoning or distancing himself from it. Although told in the third person, the perspective is so convincingly from the point of view of the villagers that I began to feel the desperation of their hunger and separation from indentured relatives, and their horrified powerlessness when faced with the repercussions of taking such morbid advantage of O-fune-sama.

I think I've run out of mental steam again. Back to dozing in the overheated bookstore while customers move in slow motion around me.

Monday, 22 June 2009

More "swindling and scoundrelly trickery" please

On a friend's advice, I've decided that I won't always stick to the strictly chronological approach that I'd planned to follow for my French literature reading project. The next chronological book that I should have been reading over the weekend is The Conquest of Constantinople, but I don't want to read that until I've finished Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul, which I'm only about halfway through. Revising my original plan hasn't been so difficult for my addled brain to consider and accept, in the end, for as may be totally obvious, I'm pretty easily distracted these days.

Having abandoned all order, I picked up the French book nearest to hand which was Abbe Prevost's Manon Lescaut, first published in 1731. Prevost was apparently torn between the pleasures of religion and being a libertine and this short novel is thus at least in part autobiographical.

Manon Lescaut
tells the story of Chevalier des Grieux, a teenager who, on his way to join a seminary (I think - dear gawd, I'm already forgetting the book's details!), sees a beautiful young woman (Manon) at the port and in approximately 5 minutes, abandons his family and prospects by convincing her to run away with him. The rest of the book details their pleasures, troubles, blunders, and general idiocy that (in books written in the 18th century anyway) tends to accompany extreme passion.

This novella was only 156 pages long but I have to admit that in the second half it began to drag for me. At first, I was really happy to be reading some Richardson-esque moral tale that tends more towards the lurid and sensational no matter how much the author insists it's meant to be cautionary. (Prevost, in his preface, describes Manon Lescaut as "a moral treatise entertainingly put into practice" (p. 5).)

The thing is, the lurid wasn't lurid enough and the moral not terrifying enough; I feel that the structure and writing style of Manon Lescaut were rather too bland for such visceral subject-matter - the young couple's passions were just not convincing to me, and without being caught up in their passion it's hard to think of anything but the stupidity of it all.

Mind, there were points at which I found myself really enjoying this book but I feel that overall, Prevost could have paid closer attention to what Richardson was doing - although I don't know how that's possible given that Prevost was the guy translating Pamela, etc into French during this period. Ah well. I knew I wouldn't always enjoy my reading for the French literature project, but that I would always learn something. And what I learned from Manon Lescaut is that in the 1730s, the English perhaps did morastic kink better. Sorry, Abbe!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Ffack you, Jasper!

I think I'm about to lose some friends here. As far as I can tell, everyone loves Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. It's considered to be one of those la-la-la, light, happy, and hilarious books that no one could possibly not like because it's the perfect beach read, but a beach read for people who really like books, so that much more of a perfect beach read. An uber-beach read for nerds who don't want to slum it too much, even when on vay-cay.

Well, I suppose it's these things but it's also (much more) full of a hell of a lot of filler (really, what was the point of all that dodo stuff?), mediocre writing (at best), a knowledge of classic literature that seems like it may well have been gathered entirely from the Wikipedia, and an embarrassingly ham-fisted handling of one seriously contrived plot.

Or, to put it another way: I like the idea of a world where the boundaries between literature and reality are blurred and literature has a living significance in everyone's lives. The problem is, I don't think Fforde is very smart; I wish someone with a much higher IQ had written this book or something like it.

And because Fforde ain't so ffriggin' smart, The Eyre Affair reads to me like the offspring of a homeless man's Woody Allen short story and a Ritalin-inspired Artemis Fowl novel. (The latter being a problem because the Artemis Fowl books are for kids and they're about a bazillion times cleverer than this (which is for adults), and the former being a problem because Woody Allen is funny, but he's not unapproachably funny; he shouldn't constitute an unreachable standard. Know what'm sayin'?)

So, yeah, unimpressed, both because this book sucked and because Ffoolish Jasper the buffle-headed book-ffucker probably has more money than Gawd at this point and is therefore an example to other young semi-literates who think (rightly!) that if they write some crap they might well get a huge following anyway.

There. Rant over. Now, back to good books and happier times.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Power, responsiblity, fear, anxiety, weeping, wailing, thumb-sucking

Peter Parker's Uncle Ben (Uncle Ben? Really? You couldn't come up with something less cheap rice-y, Stan Lee?) was like SO right when he said that "With great power comes great responsibility." I feel this burden every day. Every day, my friends. Because unlike when I was teaching university English courses and approximately half my students read the assigned readings (and usually not all of said readings), people read what I tell them to now.

On my blog, I'm obviously not telling people directly what to read; however, several people have read or are now reading both The Immaculate Conception and Bel Canto just because I liked these books so much. This both pleases me and makes me extremely uncomfortable, although not because I feel a kind of pitying scorn for people who don't like the same books I do (which is the sort of reaction, at best, I got re: my dislike for McCarthy's The Road).

Rather, this sort of influence makes me uncomfortable because I fear wasting people's time with things they don't like. Also, I don't want them to think I'm crazy because I like books about setting things on fire (see Soucy).

(So far, things are split evenly down the middle on The Immaculate Conception and the jury's out on Bel Canto. But I fret and bite my nails. I mentally sit in a corner rocking back and forth and sucking my thumb while I wait for the damnation and resentment to descend.)

I try to remind myself that people choose to read my blog and have absolutely no reason to trust me and if they hate the books I like, it's one of those caveat emptor thingies. But it doesn't really work and I can't even pretend to have that kind of distance in the store. People ask me to choose books for them all the time here. They tell me they like books I haven't read and would never read myself and then I have to choose something for them. Or they tell me they like books I hate and then I have to choose something for them. I've had a lot of success and a few startling failures but even with the odds in my mind-reading favour, I still quail whenever someone asks me to determine the course of their immediate reading future.

And the reason is this: knowing what books people have enjoyed doesn't mean I understand why they enjoyed them, and in my experience, most people don't easily convey that information. For example: a woman came in last week and told me she loved Samuel Richardson's Pamela. I was floored and excited because I think I'm the only other person I've ever met who also loves this book. So, I recommended Fanny Burney's Evelina to her which she informed me yesterday when she returned, she also loved. Great success!

BUT it wasn't until yesterday, when we were having big chats, that I found out why she loved Pamela, and it made me sick up a little. Another customer overheard us and started skewering poor Pamela. Customer who loves Pamela says "Ah, but it's so cute and you never meet people that like morally strong anymore!" while I say at pretty much the same time "But it's so kinky and weird about gender and class imbalance, how can you not like it?"

She didn't seem bothered that we weren't even in the same universe re: reading Pamela but it frightened me not a little. How am I to recommend books to people without that debilitating lower brain stem kind of terror that arises from knowing that while all the words are the same in books we share, all their individual and collective significances appear entirely differently to us?

Obviously, I won't refuse either to make recommendations or to give my real opinions on my bloggy but what to do with this awful (in the more archaic and sublime sense of the word) fear accompanying these activities? Like Spiderman, I may be reduced to wearing stretchy pants and confusedly contemplating my unevenly sized hands. (I know, I know - that was a lame way of getting this photo into the blog, but I like this photo; it's pre-fatty, hot Spiderman and he looks kind of how I feel right now.)

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

As if the singing would save their lives

I've begun and erased this post about 5 times already. I like this book so very much that I don't know where to begin. How about this:

If someone tells you that this book is about a hostage-taking, don't worry about that; don't not read it because you imagine it's going to be cheap and sensational and shallow. It's none of these things.

But Ann Patchett's Bel Canto is about a hostage-taking, which begins at a party in a South American country (which is never named); a terrorist group breaks in looking to kidnap the president who has, at the last moment, decided to skip the party in favour of watching his favourite soap opera. The terrorists panic a little and take everyone at the party hostage, including a world-famous opera singer, and the rest of the story goes from there.

The kidnappers and the hostages spend many months together and the novel delves into the seemingly impossible relationships that can be established in extreme circumstances. Professionals would undoubtedly refer to what Patchett describes in this book simply as Stockholm Syndrome, but I think that Patchett treats her characters with too much gentleness and respect, as well as invests them with too much complexity, for such a blanket psychological term to be applied comfortably. And because that unspoken term isn't allowed easily to be applied, the term "terrorist" (which she does use) is also constantly problematized. There is no dehumanizing of anyone in this book; indeed, what makes it compelling to me is how insistently human she makes every character she creates.

The primary medium for the humanization of all these characters is music, particularly the voice of Roxanne Coss, a world-renowned soprano who's been brought to the party to try to convince opera aficionado and businessman Mr. Hosokawa to build a factory in the country. At the party, her singing is concluded by all the lights going out and the hostage-takers busting in - all of whom have spent the whole party hidden, forced to listen to and begin to be transformed in some way by her voice.

So, yes, this book about a hostage-taking is not only refreshingly human and gentle, but it is also a meditation on art and what it means to people, even (especially!) people who have never been privileged enough to really experience it before.

I know I'm not doing this book justice; I don't seem to have the vocabulary required to write positively about a book without sounding quite bland. And maybe that's one of the reasons why I love this book so much: Ann Patchett can write about things like love and care and hope and desire without ever sounding pat or bland or maudlin or hokey. She has a sort of magic that I think very few writers do. She makes my heart contract when she writes about a hug, whereas most writers treating the same material or situations would incense me with their sentimentalization of things we all know are beautiful in reality.

I think Patchett is able to do this in part because her writing is so good. And a large part of what makes it good is that it doesn't draw attention to itself. There are no Rushdie-esque moments of "Hey, look at how utterly brilliant, charming, and clever this writing is!" It's gentle and quiet, and if this is something that can be said about writing, vulnerable. I know that doesn't make sense and yet I somehow feel that's the right word, or at least close to the right word.

And of course, things end badly. As Patchett tells us right at the beginning, all of the terrorists end up dead. What's amazing to me is that, knowing that, I was still able to believe completely in what becomes almost every character's impossible dream - that somehow they'll be able to spend the rest of their lives together listening to music and being innocent.

And innocent, in the most fundamental way, is what everyone described in this book becomes. For me, that's what's truly painful about the impossibility of it all - that human beings might have more than very rare and brief moments of pure freedom from what degrades our humanity and makes us stupid, selfish, and violent.

I don't think Patchett was ever going for realism here, even though she treats her characters with a complexity I didn't expect. No, I think what she was going for here was a sort of wild and profound hope - indeed, this book may have arisen out of one of those rare and profound moments of innocence which her characters are allowed to enjoy for such an unnaturally and unrealistically long period of time.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Saturday night's alright for fighting with Leo Tolstoy

Oh damn. It's Saturday night and I'm sitting on my ass with the TV on and the computer playing videos on YouTube. I'd planned to make dinner for my hubby, who will be returning from PEI this evening. I'd planned to pack for my trip to Kingston which involves me being on a train at an offensively early hour tomorrow morning.

Instead, I laid down for 5 minutes and woke up 2 hours later, had a peanut butter and jam sammich for dinner, and am now about to write what may be the lamest post ever while simultaneously watching Lady GaGa videos. All these factors combined may constitute a spiritual bottom for me.

I was incredibly excited to read Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection, my first Russian novel in about 3.5 years - the last being Anna Karenina, which I read while taking trains through various eastern bloc European countries. Creepily apropos, yes. Anyway, I really, really enjoyed Anna Karenina, even though I understood why some people I know found it a little too heavy-handed in its moralizing.

I was able to get past the pedagogical in Anna Karenina because it was so chock-full of story. I like morals, when told in a compelling way that involves a denouement wrapping up a bunch of interesting Happenings. Not much Happens in Resurrection; indeed, in this book, there's not much room for Happenings what with the whole boat-load of Lessons (called "Learnings" in the corporate world. *Shudder*) that keeps crashing up on the shore. (I don't think I like this metaphor even though I'm sure you get what I mean. But I'm not going to change it because that wouldn't be in keeping with the whole "spiritual bottom" aspect of this post.)

Spoiler galore from here on in!
A rake and all-around upper-class meathead named Prince Nekhlyudov is doing jury duty when he realizes that one of the people he's helping to try is Maslova, his aunts' former ward/maid who 10 years before he seduced and then abandoned. Having been seduced, abandoned, impregnated, and lost the baby, Maslova, of course, has turned to prostitution and is on trial for murdering one of her clients.

She's innocent of murder, but the jury being given incomplete instructions from the judge, and the meathead saying nothing because he's worried people will figure out what he did 10 years before, manages to find her guilty without meaning to and she's sent off to Siberia. In the meantime, Nekhlyudov is walking down memory lane remembering how much finer a fellow he used to be and also remembering what a cad he was to Maslova. Based on said stroll, he decides to try to make right by taking on the appeal for her case and by sacrificing his life by marrying her.

The prince is very pleased with his re-emerging spirituality and has very tender and loving feelings for himself and all the good he ends up trying to do for his former conquest and some other prisoners she draws his attention to. The prince is a very self-satisfied shit and Tolstoy treats him with irony once or twice but not really enough for this book, with its earnestness and not-Happenings, to be a very good and - for Tolstoy I think this would matter more - convincing read.

And Nekhlyudov's transformation into a spiritual being isn't just unconvincing, it's incomplete but not, I think, because Tolstoy intended it to be so. Rather, faced with having a member of the gentry marry a fallen servant girl, Tolstoy lets the prince off the hook by having Maslova refuse to marry him because she doesn't want to ruin his life. The problem with this is that he gets to feel a great deal of self-satisfaction for having felt differently but without his life being materially affected by his feelings (much like when he seduced her) - while she, of course, remains in exile for a crime she didn't commit. What makes this worse is that by having Maslova refuse to marry the prince for the above reason, and by having him accept her refusal, the class imbalances that Tolstoy so earnestly and strenuously damns and laments up until the book's conclusion are made to look as explicitly empty as they just quietly seemed to be throughout the book.

I would love to think this book wasn't only a harsh critique of late 19th-century Russia's penal system and the severe class imbalances reflected and perpetuated therein, but also of upper-class sentimentalists who have the privilege of dipping in, empathizing, and helping when they feel like it precisely because they can return to their easy lives whenever they like. But it just didn't feel like the latter at all, and for me, that severely undermined the effectiveness of the former two.

Also, not much Happened.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

A light summer fling

Back in December, I decided to join this Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge, and pledged to read at least 20 library books in 2009. The year is now officially half gone and I am only on book #8. It's not impossible that I'll reach my goal but it'll certainly take some doing.

But such doing is not something I'm entirely sure I want to engage in given how many kick-ass books are currently moldering in my personal collection and making me feel desperate and panicky about them in particular and the fact that there are more books I want to read than can be managed before I die at the ripe old age of 102 in general. (That run-on and grammatically mutilated sentence reflects the depth and breadth of my anxiety on this front. Sigh.) (I've got Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on hold at the library so I know I'll at least make 9!)

Not that I won't also borrow more Wodehouse from the library, of course; I love his stuff but he's not really a re-read or a keeper, you know? Reading Wodehouse is like having a light and happy summer fling when you're 17 - all fun and happiness, no complications, and fond though often vague memories to think back on later.

Blandings Castle was not the Wodehouse I was hoping to read this time around. I really wanted to pick up Psmith in the City because Book Psmith said it was almost as good as Leave it to Psmith, which is still my favourite Wodehouse novel. Alas, my public library doesn't currently own a copy of Psmith in the City and so I was left to find something else, and also to tear my hair, gnash my teeth, and rend my cheeks. No, of course, I didn't wail and beat my breast - it's not that serious.

Anyway, much to my disappointment, Blandings Castle turned out to be a collection of short stories. I'm really not interested in anything but novels these days and so the only thing that got me reading at all was the fact that it was Wodehouse and I love Blandings tales. There were laughs and giggles and fond smiles and silent titterings. It was good. But then there were several Mulliner stories and I have to say, I don't love the Mulliner stories the way I love the Blandings tales or the way I loved the one Jeeves tale I've read thus far. I don't find Hollywood hi jinx so effective when it comes to working the giggle reflexes. There were moments, yes, but I found myself yearning for more news of The Empress of Blandings (Lord Emsworth's prize pig) or The Efficient Baxter.

In spite of my lamenting for something more thoroughly Blandings-ish here, I have been very grateful for Wodehouse's timely intervention in my reading. I'm also reading Tolstoy's Resurrection, which is heavy stuff, which would be more than fine if it were even half as awesome as Anna Karenina, which I read a few years ago while honeymooning with hubby (perhaps a strange choice for the circumstances, I realize). I'll keep plowing through the Tolstoy but more comic diversions may be required to complete it.

Monday, 1 June 2009

The Sarazens head without New-gate: Between the covers

No, unfortunately, this isn't going to be a post about sexy book-selling experiences because I suspect there's no such thing. This post is about the strangest, most interesting, loveliest things I've so far found in books that are for sale in my book shop.

Last year, when I wrote the questions for The Reading Lamp, I gave interviewees the options of describing cool things they've found in books. When I posed that question, I didn't know I was going to buy a bookstore myself and end up finding interesting things all the time myself, or indeed, just how interesting they would be.

At this point, I don't have any photos to show you but I will eventually as an artiste friend of mine is taking the strange treasures I find and photographing them alongside the books I find them in. The idea is that these will form the art work gracing the walls of my shop! For now, though, you'll have to enjoy only the descriptions.

Colleen's List of Favourite Items Found in Shop Books, Part One (because I suspect this will have to be updated regularly)

1. A perfectly preserved, dried purple lily in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Given Dorian's attempts at preserving his youthful beauty, I thought this was both beautifully apropos and a little creepy.

2. A bookmark featuring a bunch of Japanese text I can't read and an angry monkey on a unicycle in The Diary of Anne Frank. I think I find this to be my most mind-blowing find so far because of the surreal contrast between the bookmark and the book. I feel as though I would be incapable of marking my progress with this book with such a bookmark; it would make me feel either guilty or plunged into some kind of self-induced Kafka-esque nightmare.

3. Two Canadian two dollar bills in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The Canadian two dollar bill was retired in 1996, so these bills have been waiting a long time to be found and spent. Can they even be used as legal tender anymore? But the real question is, why hide $4 in a book you're clearly not into enough either to read again (thus discovering the money) or to keep (it came into the shop just this morning)? Speaking of money...

4. One of my first finds after taking over the shop was a $10 Monopoly note in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I feel like this choice of bookmark revealed the reader's true, if subconscious, feelings about this book; indeed, I'm sure there's a Psychology paper to be written on people's choices of bookmarks.

This one didn't end up as part of the art project because it hadn't been conceived yet, and because I thought it would be funny to put the Monopoly money with the real good luck bills we received upon taking over. So, sitting proudly next to two Canadian one dollar bills, one Canadian five dollar bill, one Canadian ten dollar bill, and a Mohawk Nation one dollar bill, is my Monopoly tenner. Even though the Monopoly tenner is there for good luck, we must have a lot more of them as that's the currency my pay cheque comes in every two weeks.

5. A photograph, from 1897, of a family with their French first names written above their heads in a very old copy of Felix Holt (vol. 3 only). The photo was very faded but the inked in names clearly legible still. Everyone wore hats and corsets (when appropriate) and looked stern, to scare the camera out of any thoughts it might have about stealing their souls.

6. A copy of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy bound in a cover meant for Proust's A La Recherche du Temps Perdue. Let me explain exactly how weird this is: I was adding books to inventory and found, hidden in a 10-foot pile, A La Recherche du Temps Perdue in hardcover, no dust jacket. The title and author's name were printed as part of the cloth and board cover.

I started flipping through the book to check its condition and became quickly confused as the text was in English. Flipping to the title page, I saw Sterne credited and a quick read of the first page and search for the all-black page confirmed that this was, in fact, Tristram Shandy. What the hell happened here anyway? How many of these are out there, causing French readers' brains to short circuit?

I'm keeping this one because I think it is absolutely necessary that I walk around looking posh because I appear to be reading Proust in French all the while laughing hysterically because I'm reading one of the funniest books ever written in English.

So, what do you say? What's the most amazing foreign object you've found in a book?