10 August 2014

My very first James Joyce book

As a bookseller, I was working, between 1969 and 1975, in a bookshop in Dordrecht. For a couple of years, on the shelves of books translated from English, we had had a beautiful hardcover copy of James Joyce's Ulysses, in Dutch translation, with a extra volume of notes by the translator. It was a second edition from 1970. A regular customer, who was an English teacher and with whom I had often had discussions about literature, told me that he was reading that book of Joyce's again, in English, but now with the Dutch translation beside it.
It was, according to him, the best book ever published in the 20th century until now. Making me very curious about it, I decided to purchase that copy of the book myself. Because the price was too high for my pocket at the time, I left it where it was, intending to buy it the next month. Shortly after the talk with the customer, the owner of the bookshop popped in, as he was wont to do, complaining as always about the unsaleable titles in the shop and he gave as an example that eye-catching book of Joyce's. I told him, that he didn't need to worry about that particular book, as I intended to buy it myself in the coming month.

A few weeks later, the owner asked me if I had already taken the book home with me. I answered, that I was waiting for my salary at the end of the week. ''But where is the book then'', he asked. ''Just on the shelf'', I answered. I went to take it off the shelf, but saw only an empty space. ''It must have been stolen'', I said, with a fright. ''Are you sure of that'', he asked. ''What else could have happened, since I haven't sold it'', I replied in a disgruntled manner. He looked at me suspiciously and said: ''Then you will have to order it again, won't you''.

Two days later, I got information from the wholesaler, that the book was sold out and that there was no chance of a reprint. I felt terribly let down and decided to look for a second hand copy, which I found, only a week later, in a large antiquarian bookshop in Rotterdam. Who knows; maybe it was the very same copy from the bookshop where I was working.

Hans van den Bos