Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Treasure in the Bargain Bin

Me and Mawmaw and little brother

When I was a girl, my paternal grandma used to take me along on trips to thrift stores, antique malls or "junk shops" as she called them. As someone who experienced the Great Depression and the rationing of World War II, she was the consummate deal finder. You name it, she'd find it at half the price -- or less.  When we went shopping, it wasn't so much of a retail experience as it was an expedition of Indiana Jonesesque proportions because you never knew what special treasure she'd unearth: containers to keep things in, silver spoons, perfectly serviceable shoes....she especially was fond of porcelain bird figurines and music boxes.  I still have an antique German brass plaque depicting Albrecht Durer's Betende Hände that we found buried in the corner of a dimly-lit shop one summer afternoon; I remember how her eyes sparkled when she held it up to the window.

Years later I sometimes find myself in a similar pattern, more out of nostalgia than necessity, trawling local shops for rare or interesting items (ostensibly for still life paintings). Yet after a couple of decades of collecting I've learned to be more selective and purposeful in what I bring home, so I don't one day end up buried by objects or become a subject for a clean-up reality show.  However I still retain a major weakness: books. 

Between my husband and myself, we have at least 1000 books and countless more lurking in boxes. The paperbacks are shelved two layers deep because we've quite frankly run out of room. Thankfully there are only three used bookstores left in town, and I tend to avoid them like a conscientious dieter avoids certain aisles of the grocery store.  


The other day I somehow found myself scanning the bargain book section of Barnes & Noble.  You know, where you find titles like, Learn Dominoes! sitting next to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens and the latest selection of coloring books for adults.  And lo and behold there was a book that (in my estimation) was an actual bargain.

Be still my beating heart

It was the very big, very heavy, very lavishly illustrated Drawn from Paradise, a gorgeous work about the birds of paradise co-authored by none other than famed BBC documentarian Sir David Attenborough. Usually listed at $45 it was stickered at a mere $12(!)  Suspicious,  I asked the clerk why such a well-written and researched book would be doing next to The Big Book of Sudoku Puzzles, and they just shrugged and said occasionally books were overstocked in warehouses and therefore shipped back as bargain books. 

The book is a stunner.  251 pages plus an index, it covers a wide range of people who were involved with the discovery and recording and ultimate demise of some of the most glorious yet enigmatic birds in the world: the birds of paradise. Nine chapters are divided up by the various birds of paradise families. The tenth covers their mysterious dancing behavior and the eleventh reports on curious hybrid cases. There's also (very useful) an appendix of men and women historically associated with the discovery and artistic representation of these birds.

After flipping through the pages that included vivid paintings by Raymond Ching and W.T. Cooper,  I was hooked; and, after an exceptionally brief inner-struggle, I got out my wallet.  And as I toted the weighty tome back to the car, I couldn't help but feel that somehow my inherited Mawmaw genes were quite pleased with themselves.

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