We found ourselves making a sudden deviation from our vacation plans to deliver my mother to the beside of my grandmother in Baton Rouge. Several years ago, Grandma moved from a rambling antebellum house to a small retirement apartment, the which is elegantly appointed in High Southern Gothic style with antique armoires and massive wooden bedsteads and marble topped side tables and a life-sized, gilt-framed painting of my great-grandfather. All her possessions there have been culled from a lifetime's worth of collecting and inheriting and aquiring, and Grandma has the taste and restraint of a certain school of southern womanhood.
And so it was with mild surprise that I spotted a fat and lurid mass-market paperback nestled on a desk. The cover depicted a sinister manse silhouetted against a purplish orange sky. Perhaps there was a terrified blonde cowering buxomly. The back blurb raved of a curse and madness and dysfunction. And the book itself? It turned out to be a Wal-Mart 2 for $1 edition of The House of the Seven Gables. Nathaniel Hawthorne, call your marketing department.
Now, I'm all for making the classics accessible to the general reading populace, and I have a great pity for those who have only fifty cents to spend on building their book collection. We've all been there. Goodness knows my paperback of Name of the Rose is vividly ridiculous. But. Does it actually happen that someone who wants a cheap thriller will stumble across The House of the Seven Gables and read the whole thing? Or is it that the purchaser recognizes the title and buys it despite the shame of the cover?