Dime Store Alchemy by Charles Simic
I’m so struck with the idea of a book becoming both talisman and compass. If I could have all of Mary Oliver’s poems in one volume, that might very well be my talisman book. Thank you for a wonderful read.
What a glorious read. I recognize the phenomenon of a talisman book. Always thrilling when a book transcends pure book-ness and becomes either a friend or a magical object or both. And this piece is a superdelightful nesting doll of invitations into Simic’s work, Cornell’s work and yours, Sal. Too cool.
A book as a talisman. I like it. I'm trying to think of the stack I seem to always have by my bed. But, it's changed over the decades. I don't think I've had one that is "the" one for 30 years. That is special. I'm going to look at my stack of books a little closer. I feel like it will be hard to choose.
Oh, this is gorgeous. "The ideal talisman book is outwardly small and inwardly vast. It should function like an oracle when you open it at random." I love that this talisman is now becoming a guide for your creative integration of word and image. Thank you for this precious glimpse into your artistic sensibility.
I have adored Joseph Cornell since the mid-80s when I lived briefly in Chicago. The Art Institute has quite a collection. I loved reading about his eccentricities and gazing at the boxes, fascinated at the permission he gave himself to explore the depths of his imagination.
Oh my oh my oh myyyyyy!!! This is one of my ALL TIME FAVORITES! I can’t wait to read this!!
Interesting concept. I had two books I treated like that: Kafka's short stories and Salinger's Franny and Zooey. Maybe it is time to check out Charles Simic as well.
I need to seek out Dime Store Alchemy. It's my kind of book! I thoroughly loved your essay Sal. I find the idea of a book as a talisman both riveting and unnerving. My mind goes to the dangers of being too attached to a physical object while longing for the security of a physical talisman that is also so utilitarian. You've given me lots to think about.
Sal, I wish you the best of success in writing your book. Writing a book is a long-term challenge; any other book that can help a writer get there is very valuable. So, you’re wise to cherish Dime-Store Alchemy.
This is such a beautiful piece. I am a lover of Cornell and Simic. How is it that I never knew about this meeting of the minds?
Great essay! Looking forward to the book you’ll write.
This is great! Thanks Sal! The act of publicly naming a specific book as a potential talisman sends out a signal to other copies of that same book not currently in use as a talisman, encouraging their guardians to check in with them. I checked in with "my" copy of "Dime-Store Alchemy" (same Ecco Press edition!) and it told me to go listen to Marika Papagika (whom Simic mentions on page 17, in the section titled "Naked in Arcadia"), which was entirely fitting, as another book I read recently ("A Space Bounded by Shadows" by Emine Sevgi Özdamar) told me to go listen to Sofia Vembo. Unlike when "Dime-Store Alchemy" was first published, today one need barely pause in one's reading to call up these recordings, adding them to the reading experience as a soundtrack. Listening to Marika Papagika for the very first time while revisiting the delights of "Dime-Store Alchemy" was a such a joy! Yes!
P.S. - On the subject of "a clearinghouse for dreams" - Exact Change published a collection of "Joseph Cornell's Dreams" (drawn from his journals) edited and introduced by Catherine Corman in 2007. An excellent companion volume to "Dime-Store Alchemy" ...
I absolutely connect with the idea of talisman books. There is something about the touch or just looking at certain books on my shelf that inspire and motivate me like nothing else. Maybe it's the promise they hold or how they inspire. Either way, they are key part of my own personal motivations for writing.
Wow. This one really resonated with me. I think I have some talisman books of my own, though they stay on my shelves, apart from one notebook I've taken with me since I was 14. And that Apollinaris struck me as something so linked to the mythology of my writing, specifically what I've done with the Lascaux shaft scene and my own sort of (fictional?) spirituality that expressed itself through that image.
I didn’t know I was doing this until you wrote it! Just as needed in my bag as my chapstick or wallet.
A book is definitely a better talisman than a rabbit's foot or a four leaf clover. You get way better conversations from having a book!