by Jim Simpson
On a recent trip to Books Again in Decatur, I picked up a 1964 hardcover copy of Albert Camus’ novel The Fall. I’ve always admired Camus, but admit to reading only one novel (The Stranger, as a college Freshman) and a few of his essays. I really should read more, and The Fall looks intriguing, especially since the copy I bought has a Honolulu Book Shops label on the inside back cover.
Having never been to Hawaii, I’ve always thought of it as a lush tropical paradise where nothing ever goes wrong and everyone lives in a state of ambulatory bliss. But, like any scrap of land where human beings congregate, I’m sure Hawaii has its share of troubles -- Steve McGarrett would likely concur.
It was the inscription on the title page that really caught my eye: “Much Aloha!”, a drawing of an evergreen tree and “66” (perhaps a Christmas tree, the book given as a gift in 1966) signed, simply, “G.” Again, like most found objects in books, this makes me wonder: Was the book shipped to the States as a gift or given from one Hawaiian resident to another? Was it actually a Christmas tree or some secret family icon? Why read Camus in paradise? Then again, why not? I was reminded of Paul Theroux’s wonderful novel Hotel Honolulu with its unnamed main character -- a “writer in retreat” -- toting around a copy of Anna Karenina to keep people at bay, and describing Hawaii as “paradise with heavy traffic.”
The more I thought about it -- with Books Again’s feline mascot Eric rubbing my ankles -- everything made sense. Camus’ main character in the novel sits in an Amsterdam bar called Mexico City telling a stranger about his fall from grace in the gritty paradise of Paris, so it is only fitting that this copy of the novel has its origins in a bookstore in the lush Hawaiian paradise. Anyway, I can’t wait to dive into this book, following the narrator around and around in the Dantean concentric circles of Amsterdam.