lost books

When I was studying for my doctoral exams deep in the bowels of Firestone library, I would sometimes sneak out into the stacks and wander. You understand I’m talking about looking at books that had nothing to do with my PhD program. No generative grammar, no comparative reconstruction, nothing about statistical analysis… I went into the fiction stacks, and picked up book after book without even reading the spine.

codexDoctoral exams are stressful, and it was the way I coped. I would read a chapter from the middle of a novel and put it back. After doing this three or four times, I snuck back to my study carrell (a tiny space with a rolling door much like a cell) to have another look at the morphology of Gothic. Yes, it is as awful as it sounds. And yes, once upon a time, I could read (and translate) the page you see here.

Now, seventeen years later, I remember very little about my doctoral exams. I found the written portion in my files last year and I was astounded. I have no idea how I answered those questions, because they mean nothing to me anymore. I did answer them, obviously, because I do have a dusty PhD diploma sitting around here someplace. I remember nothing of Early New High German variation patterns in subordinate clauses, but I do remember some of those chapters I read in the dark corners of the library in the deep of the night.

One in particular stays with me, and I have always wondered about it. It was science fiction, and the bits I remember are all very odd. A few people won a lottery and got to pick the planet they wanted to live on (in a universe apparently crowded with inhabited planets, each very distinct); there was a horse/unicorn-like species that was born with full possession of human language, who could tell the future (or maybe not; but it had some kind of power).

I’ve never been able to track down this novel, though I’ve tried. If anybody knows of it, please do tell me. Or maybe there’s a website out there I haven’t found yet where people describe novels they’ve lost and other kind readers with better memories supply the titles. There is one such website for chldren’s books run by Loganberry Books in Ohio, called Stump the Bookseller. It’s a lot of fun.

2 Replies to “lost books”

  1. There is a site/forum for this but cannot find address in my “book ideas” email file. Suggest you contact Jody Wallace: editor@sfronline.com as I think she mentioned in one of her newsletters. OR if you have a decent local library system they will include your inquiry in a memo to branch librarians.
    Good luck.

  2. Hi Sara —

    I’ve been enjoying your site for a couple of months, after first running across it while searching for info about a writer friend of mine from Boulder, Baine Kerr. We both had second novels coming out in paperback, and as a big fan of Wrongful Death (except for the title! it seems any book with a lawyer in it has to have this legalese-y stuff — and in Baine’s case, it doesn’t begin to do the novel justice), I like to check periodically to see how it’s doing. I was happy to find your good review.

    Anyway, the LOST BOOKS entry reminded me of how I spent years trying to find a novel I’d read in my early teens and couldn’t remember the title of (or the author). I knew only that the story started off in the Alps, that it had a sensitive female protagonist and a doomed love affair with an older musician. For a long time, I was convinced it was Hardy’s Return of the Native, but of course it wasn’t (I’d sometimes thumb through that book, looking for anything that rang a bell). Anyway, about a year ago, I was reading another novel, and a character mentioned a book titled The Constant Nymph. Eureka! That was it! I immediately went online and bought a copy. Re-read it as soon as it arrived. It didn’t hold up, but I was so excited to have found it at last, I didn’t care.

    So you never know.


    p.s. I recently moved to Astoria, Oregon, from Colorado and am experiencing severe culture shock. Portland is 2 hours away, Seattle 3. The library is severely understocked. But it’s so beautiful. Back in the summer of 2002, Boulder suffered a solid month of 100 degree temps. Fires in the mountains, burning out of control. You couldn’t breathe for the smoke. I swore I had to get out of the heat. And my husband and I wanted to live somewhere inexpensive, so that writing wouldn’t necessarily preclude being able to eat.

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