Grant Bundy on Old Paper


Bundy recounts the pleasures of finding and keeping old books @ Brick.

I often open Samuel Beckett’s More Pricks Than Kicks, raise it to my face, close my eyes, and inhale. The pages are as pungent as a dry old asiago. I stole the book from a guest house in Mexico. Thirty years later I’m back in that room with its coleus, its sea view, and experience again the shock of discovering six small black scorpions in the bed. When I first opened the book, sand trickled out and I saw mosquitoes pressed as flat as tiny flowers. It’s a Grove Press edition from 1972, the cover tainted with tea-coloured blooms of mildew.

On the next trip to Mexico I found Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr. The book was in worse shape than the Beckett, its spine split, its pages loose as cards, and the smell septic. It was at the very bottom of a stack on a stone-floored shop near the Alameda in Mexico City. The owner dismissed the book with a backhanded wave, meaning, Take it. Like a prisoner condemned to a long spell in a dungeon, the book had suffered such irreparable damage it wasn’t worth a peso. I bought a large manila envelope and carried the book, in its many fragments, around Mexico for the next month, its pages as brittle and crumbling as the hardtack Dana ate aboard the brig Pilgrim.
In Allahabad, India, I found Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason by Michel Foucault. It was lying on a mat on a street. It was different from the other two books in that it was outside in the sun rather than inside in the damp confines of a shop or shelf. Its pages were stiff and rippled, and I wiped a thick coat of dirt from the cover. The price was ten rupees, or as the vendor said, Rupees ten. One dollar. The vendor was short and thick, wearing black cotton pants and a white cotton shirt buttoned at the cuffs. An excellent read, he assured me. The cover showed a left hand holding a circle from which a naked madman stared out as though from a crystal ball.
Image: "Totem" by Daniel Essig @ Donna Seager Gallery