Hidden Pleasures

Can you get a colour like that except from an old copy of a book that long ago lost its dust jacket?

The photo above and the one below were taken moments apart, one a little closer to the window.

It's one of the precious qualities of old books like this. They change with the seasons, or over the course of a day.

This is Du's favourite book. A hidden pleasure. A secret stashed away in his socks and underwear drawer. He doesn't really want anyone to know he reads poetry from 9th Century China. Not so much because he's ashamed of it as he just prefers the secret. He's had the book so long, it's like carrying around an old stuffed bear.


My friend Carl Wilson had his life turned upside down recently when actor James Franco was stopped on the red carpet at the academy awards and asked if he had any guilty pleasures.

The last thing the interviewer expected was that Franco would mention a book. The cues he offered were The Hills & American Idol (I know I know, that last link doesn't really go to American Idol, but how could I resist?)

And he prefaced the question by holding forth on the highbrow nature of the Oscars, begging for a little lowbrow with his highbrow.

(Saying the Oscars are highbrow — no matter how much they might want to be — is like saying that US political discourse covers the spectrum from left to right. They aren't. It doesn't.

(But that's a tangent.)

After struggling for a few seconds, and further encouraged by the questioner (who assured Franco that he would 'wait all night') the actor finally gave up searching for the sort of answer that was expected of him and mentioned a book. He mentioned Carl's book. Not so much because Carl's book was a hidden pleasure for Franco as the question itself brought to mind the themes of Carl's journey to the end of taste.

Epigraph for Sunflower Splendor.

I was going to embed the video here, but I feel that a youtube screenshot will clash with all the digital photos of an old book. So I'll let you go find it here. Or here, where you'll also find Carl's own impressions of the experience.

Franco's choice of a book instead of a TV addiction did not so much reveal a guilty pleasure as a hidden pleasure: a hidden love of learnin' was unexpectedly displayed on the red carpet for the Academy Awards, shocking the questioner and spurring perhaps the first book review that has ever happened there.

Beyond the red carpet though, I suspect Franco isn't the only person who would choose a book for his hidden pleasure.


The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal is partly a book about the love of books. A few of the characters have precious favourites that have been with them so long, they would never even think to share them with anyone, much the same way as you wouldn't share a favourite pair of shoes, say. They're secrets.

In one case, the secret is actually a blog, but in all the others, it's a book. Even the ten stone cuneiform tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh were once a secret — the longtime favourite of twins Runner and Ruby Coghill. But then Ruby died and so Runner revealed them to the book club, demanding that they read them for the next book, despite the small problem that none of the members knew how to read the ancient language.

But other characters have their secrets too.

Du's is a book called Sunflower Splendor - Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry. His particular favourite section of this eight hundred page book is the small collection of poems by Yu Xuanji, translated by Jan Walls and Geoffrey R. Waters.

There's a reason for his obsession with this particular poet, but you'll have to read the book to find out what it is.

Here's her biography though, from the old book, written by one of the translators, Jan Walls, (who is himself briefly interviewed by Jennifer and Danielle in their writing of the Lacuna Cabal's last days):

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