In last week’s column, I mentioned the virtue of reading small books over the summer, citing my “Pocket Robert Louis Stevenson” as an example. It’s a tiny volume that seems perfectly matched to a man who often tackles only a couple of pages a night before nodding off.
I had bought the book while visiting Vancouver, British Columbia, last year for a conference, which included an off-hour I spent at MacLeod’s Books downtown. It’s a used bookstore with so much merchandise piled everywhere that a literary landslide seems inevitable. The scene looked like such a case of extreme hoarding that I wanted to snap a picture — until I noticed a sign telling me not to. Maybe the owner had grown tired of people mocking his housekeeping online.
The “finely ordered chaos is one of the marvels of MacLeod’s,” a journalist for Maclean’s magazine in Canada noted of the shop. “There isn’t a computer in sight, but staff know exactly what they own, and where to find it.”
The stocking system wasn’t readily apparent to me. Imagine floor-to-ceiling shelves jumbled by an earthquake, with piles of paperbacks scattered in the aisles, and you’ll get the idea.
By accident, though, I stumbled across a copy of “A Zoo in My Luggage,” one of many funny memoirs by the late English naturalist Gerald Durrell. Growing up in a family of eccentrics on the Greek island of Corfu before World War II, Durrell indulged his interest in wildlife, often finding his mother and siblings odder than the local flora and fauna.
“The Durrells in Corfu,” a recent PBS series, was inspired by his adventures, though the TV adaptation isn’t nearly as wry as Durrell’s books.
“A Zoo in My Luggage” is on my reading list this summer, satisfying my need for something light and funny. I’m also reading “Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine,” physicist Alan Lightman’s story about what his summers off the New England coast have taught him about the meaning of life.
“The Art of the Wasted Day,” Patricia Hampl’s wise and witty celebration of loafing, is on my summer books list, too. I’ve also added to the stack “Kindest Regards,” a collection of new and old work by Ted Kooser, who writes the kind of poems even people who don’t like poetry should love.
If time allows, I’ll tackle “Battleship Yamato,” a small book by Jan Morris about the huge Japanese vessel that struck fear in the Allies during World War II.
Topping off the list is “A Roundabout Manner,” an assortment of newspaper essays by 19th-century novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.
Last week, I had touted the wisdom of not biting off more than you can chew when it comes to summer reading. But those groaning shelves at MacLeod’s last year reminded me of that old Mae West quote: “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter @Danny_Heitman.