Monday, September 03, 2007


The Book: J. B. Priestley, The Good Companions. Harper and Brothers, 1929 (first U.S. edition). Missing book jacket. Book is in very good condition, with only slight fading and rubbing at top and bottom of spine, and faint water stains on front and back. Previous owner's name and address ("Ellen Kroll/Turkington House/Bloomington, Ind.") are written in pencil in tiny print on the upper righthand corner of front endpaper.
First read: 1995
Owned since: 1995

I'm not a book collector in the true sense of that word. I'm pretty sure that this book is chronologically the oldest I own. With the dust jacket, its market value would be about $100; without it, it's not worth much at all, at least not in money.

My mother owned a copy of this book when I was a child, and I remember her saying that it was the happiest, funniest novel she ever read. When her aunt (and stepmother -- long story) Rita died, in 1978, I packed up a small bag of things I thought would cheer her up: a bar of soap with a duck on it, and this book.

Mom returned the favor to me in 1995, when I had a disc removed (another long story). She couldn't come up to Washington in person, but sent me this book, along with the collected Jeeves stories of P. G. Wodehouse.

No bout of self-pity is proof against these books.

The Good Companions recounts the adventures of Mr. Oakroyd, Miss Trant, and Inigo Jollifant, three unlikely travelers who meet up with a "concert party" troupe in the British countryside, and form a theatrical venture that makes all their dreams come true.

It was Priestley's first big hit, and established him as a national figure. It's now out of print in the U.S., and although the book holds up as entertainment, its casual racism is shocking to the modern reader. Rereading it last year, I was torn between wanting to revise it for modern audiences and cherishing it as a relic of a society that, although it got plenty wrong, seemed more hopeful and resilient.

No comments: