where the writers are
Me in The Mandarins


I had a realization, it slipped rapidly away, but I saw it flee and I at once picked up the trail. After some time searching, I found it. The realization is this:

A few days ago I began reading The Mandarins, by Simone de Beauvoir. The book I have was printed in 1982. I was probably just over a year old when the book was printed; Beauvoir was 74; she was born on January 9, just 13 days before I was. Isn't it funny how we associate certain similarities with others based on the day and month of the year we are born? I like that I was born in the same month as Simone, and like to think that the diligence and brilliance of her endeavors will somehow rub off on me.

What I realized, however, has little to do with the above paragraph, except for my perception of the book itself. The front cover of the May 1982 printing of The Mandarins, in my possession, is heavily worn by wrinkles at the edges, is ripping from the book's binding; and yet more veinal wrinkles that show signs of having been folded, crinkle horizontally in multiple strips across the scraggly front cover. I don't remember how much of the wear and tear was my doing.

I bought the book used. I recall it being somewhat weathered. I don't think the cover was beginning to separate from the book when I bought it. I occasionally had The Mandarins in my backpack with many other books in the past year. I have had the book for about a year. I began to read it, but stopped, and began to read something else instead; it was Dostoevsky, and then it was Dostoevsky again. I brought The Mandarins with me many places in case I suddenly decided that I wanted to read it. Instead, the book was often beat up inside of my book bag by the sharper, more firm folders (for filing school subjects) or by the bigger, more blunt books. The Mandarins was neglected and abused for some time, but never ever forgotten.

Fontana Paperbacks printed and bound The Mandarins. It is for mass marketing and that may be why the quality of the books is so poor as to not take the typical wear and tear of being in a college student's backpack. But the same things happened when I borrowed Evelyn Z.'s little trade paperback of Atlas Shrugged. The front page slowly ripped from the rest of the book as I read it over a several month period. The size of the books are one reason for the wear and tear, with a height at about 7 inches, a width of 3.5 inches, and depth of one to two inches; books this size are shaped like less-dense bricks, while most folders and textbooks are much longer and wider. If The Mandarins was the height and length of a folder or textbook, it may not be worn down as when it's short and stumpy, and gets bumped around a bunch.

Another reason for wear and tear is because of the many rough places through which the books travel. Just like Evelyn Z.'s copy of Atlas Shrugged, my copy of The Mandarins will travel with me for months to come, in book bags: in the company of other books, papers and folders, as well as with a Kryptonite bicycle U-lock, with sweaters and shirts, with stocking caps and keffiyehs; and by hand or by satchel. The book will be opened and closed at least a thousand times by my hands alone. Coffee may be spilled on it. A paper weight may be used to hold open the pages whose bindings want otherwise to snap the book closed. The book will wear. The front, and probably the back, cover may disappear into the bottom of my backpack after they secede from the book; this is what happened to the covers of Evelyn Z.'s copy of Atlas Shrugged.

Yesterday afternoon I thought aside, as a seemingly spaced out moment while reading at a cafe, 'I wonder if this book is out of print?' I stared blankly at the giant framed graphite sketch/painting of the Native American with nefarious and brightly colored and patterned horse stencils spewed across the entire canvas, 'wouldn't it be cool to copyright The Mandarins and have it put back in print! Because it's probably out of print, and not enough people know about this book – and they should.' Very deep inside of my consciousness, I became excited. I assumed that The Mandarins was no longer being published. I know why. No one ever told me about Simone de Beauvoir's novels. Initially, about five years ago, I knew she was a feminist, and that is all.

Then, three or four years ago I was introduced to Nelson Algren by Michelle C. I worked with Michelle C. and it was at ------- Bakery where she leant me her copy of Nelson Algren's The Man with the Golden Arm. Nelson Algren has a mythical status in Chicago because he wrote about Chicago criminals in a humanitarian way. After I became somewhat of a fan of Nelson Algren, I heard Michelle C. talking with another co-worker about Simone de Beauvoir's letters to Nelson Algren. I was very excited to make a connection between Simone de Beauvoir and Nelson Algren. I was very excited about it also because I had a crush on Michelle C., and hence may have taken anything she said more to heart than if someone else had said it. At that point, however, if I overheard a discussion, I might have mistaken Anais Nin for Simone de Beauvoir. Both women were provocative to me. But I had read only a few pages of an Anais Nin diary several years before being introduced to Nelson Algren. I had read no works of Simone de Beauvoir. I heard of the two women from somewhere and exaggerated any knowledge I might have had of them. I persuaded myself about the exaggerated knowledge I had of Beauvoir and Nin. I didn't know anything interesting or worthwhile about them.

Though I overheard Michelle C. say that Simone de Beauvoir and Nelson Algren were lovers, I did not seriously consider searching out any of Simone de Beauvoir's works until a few years after overhearing about her love letters. I wanted Michelle C. to be excited to tell me about Beavoir's love letters. She never told me anything about love letters, she never sent me any, and a year or two after I overheard about the letters, Michelle C. got married on a mountain top at some point on the Appalachian Trail. I was not invited.

Suddenly, in complete surprise, I found a smattering of Beauvoir's woks at Half Price Books, in Indianapolis, IN. My mom and stepdad had us, the 'kids' of our newly combined family, stuffed into the back of the family van, as we all went to the bookstore to pick out Christmas gifts; it was during this event that I discovered The Ethics of Ambiguity, The Second Sex and The Mandarins. Three books by Beauvoir at a discount. What luck!

Perhaps I thought The Mandarins was out of print because I bought it at a used book store. I never looked for Simone de Beauvoir's novels in other bookstores. I suddenly recall that finding Beavoir's novel was an accident. That is why I never looked for her work elsewhere. I did not know she wrote novels until I remember seeing, on the bland white spine of a book in the fiction section of Half Price Books, the solid, extra large, and seemingly raised blue letters “Beauvoir THE MANDARINS.” I have the book next to me now. The letters are not extra large; the letters are only medium sized, and the white backwash accentuates the readability of the words. Only the title is in blue and it is not in all capital letters. The author's name is shown as first and last name, and in black letters. The overwhelmingly white wash of the book's spine looks very plain; perhaps for that reason it looks uninteresting; perhaps for that reason I thought the book was no longer of interest to publishers or the public.

While just beginning to open my eyes this morning from a fairly nice night's rest I wondered, 'Does Google have the book in its online library? If they do, does that mean that they own the rights to it? I don't want Google to have the rights to The Mandarins. I want to have the rights to The Mandarins.' I felt sleepy after my slight spill into greedy unrest, so I nodded off back to sleep. After an hour or so of being somewhat still in slumber, I decided to curb my enthusiasm. I was going to push that silly assumption of a forgotten-by-the-world Beauvoir to the fore and find out for certain the true status of The Mandarins.

I went online. Google books had a display of it. Amazon.com was selling a recently published copy; Norton paperback; a 1999 reissue from Norton & Company's initial printing of The Mandarins in 1991. The cover of the recently published copy is ugly; a black and white photograph of a boring guy posing at the base of a spiral staircase. The more I describe the front cover, the more interesting it becomes, but still, I maintain, especially at first glance, that the cover is considerably uninteresting.

The cover on the 1982 Fontana paperback is very colorful. On the cover is a painting: Interieur by P. Bonnard. The Painting is not very beautiful; it is drab – for a painting, but the colors are fairly bright and somewhat varied. Especially exciting about the 1982 Fontana paperback is the bright yellow lettering that shines with the sun's joy from near the top of the front cover, and the placement of the author's name in relation to the book's title. I like that style of placement on the front cover of a book very much - where the author's name is aligned with the title of the book.

I also read the book. Thus far, not yet a hundred pages in, I enjoy the diverse levels of complexity in the phraseology and of the different narratorial methods. I have yet to discern whether or not the first person narrative of Anne is at all stylistically different from the third person narrative of the other sections in each chapter; if so, it is subtle. More on that later. The forthrightness of sexuality among the characters is great fun, the bitterness is biting, and the characters' dialogue is simply too believable to not savor. She can write things funny too, that is, Beauvoir writes humorous dialogue.

But I have forgotten something. The description of the realization came and went in only a few sentences interspersed throughout the essay. I could have said it all as: 'I had a grandiose illusion about bringing the literary beauty of The Mandarins into the world, to be spread about for all the see - one in every hotel room, lest it be forgotten!' And then actually taking the time to see whether or not the intrigue, the illusion was reasonable - that is it. That is all there was to it.

Instead, the essay became something else entirely. What is important here are the continually new realizations that weaved through this piece of powerful literary enterprise. It is important to keep in mind that the above essay is an exposition of the very serious lessons discovered in the making of poorly constructed trade paperback books that have a depth of one to two inches; it is simply too much. Books of such measure must be made only as hardcover editions if they are to last more than a century, or be put into a different format, or at least make such an option of purchase available. Perhaps printed on that thin Bible paper. For every hotel room.