I was considering which books to take to my favorite used-book shop today. I hesitate over certain titles, including some I haven’t picked up in years. For example, putting it in a grocery sack full of rejects seems a harsh way to treat a paperback by Edward Abbey, after the blisteringly hot summers he spent at Arches, but Desert Solitaire is his journal. And here’s a wonderful story about friendships, David Halberstam’s The Teammates. It was going to join Abbey in the bag until I noticed the inscription from my wife.
James J. Kilpatrick is no less opinionated than Ed Abbey was (far from it), but The Writer’s Art is about craft, and that makes it a resource. If I write sloppily, Kilpatrick will have something to say about it, so he’ll stay on the shelf next to William Zinsser’s classic, On Writing Well.
High praise for any book is that, after a first reading, we return to it. Several years may pass when, suddenly, the time is right to revisit a favorite character or place, hoping to uncover new insights (or reaffirm old ones).
Tony Hillerman gave us Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, and when I eventually open the first book in that series and begin reading anew—I know I’ll hear those voices differently.
Photography books are another animal entirely—they are made to be looked at. I don’t own many, but William Albert Allard’s Vanishing Breed was a gift and is still inspiring. Elliott Erwitt’s Photographs And Anti-Photographs is there, too, a collectible book but one I wouldn’t have purchased for myself (it also arrived as a gift: my friends, at least, have respectable tastes).
I’ve now come to the end of my shelf without consigning anything to the paper bag (Abbey received another reprieve), and I’ve found a couple books I’d forgotten were there, excuse enough to reheat the coffee (a second time) and linger a while longer.