Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Elena Ferrante Books Get Wet...then Dry

Wednesday night I mistakenly left three windows open in my car parked outside on the street, so when gusty winds and torrents of rain blew into the Berkeley hills early Thursday morning, they soaked my Toyota's upholstery and floors and all the belongings left on the seats. Luckily, there was a puffy vest and swim towels which soaked up some moisture, but by the time I went out to the car Thursday morning the interior was pretty damp. While furiously mopping up the water, I noticed four books by the Italian author Elena Ferrante on the back seat. The two I had just finished were completely dry but the other pair, which I had just started, seemed at first glance to be rain-spattered only on the covers. The dry pair were the first volumes of Ferrante's Neapolitan trilogy, My Brilliant Friend, and it's Italian original titled  L'Amica Geniale.  The second pair, closer to the window, were the ones I am eagerly devouring at present, Storia del Nuovo Cognome and the English translation, Story of a New Name. As with the first two volumes, I am  reading the Italian original with the help of the English translation. It takes me a long time to read Ferrrante's dense, passionate prose in Italian, even with help, but it's so rewarding to read these brilliant novels in Italian and it's lots of fun.

Anyway, back to the stormy day cleanup:  On closer inspection I realized that most of the pages in the midsection of Story of a New Name were saturated, and its Italian counterpart was also wet and damaged. My first attempts at blotting and wiping did nothing but reveal more soaked pages all stuck together and ruined. I felt sick. I'm totally immersed in the stories of these vivid characters in their poor Neapolitan neighborhood, and the precious books I had recently bought were soaked and unreadable. Calming down slightly, I decided to check the Internet for instructions for drying books. I knew "the angels" had saved whole libraries after the disastrous 1966 flood in Florence, so why couldn't I save two books?  As hoped, there were numerous websites devoted to air drying wet books, so I chose the Cornell University Library site  with bright illustrations and clear directions for drying "thoroughly wet, partially wet or damp" pages. I was encouraged, and I abandoned immediate plans for a trip to the bookstore. Why not make this a rainy day DIY project?  I unearthed my Vornado, fanned out the pages as Cornell suggested, stood the books on edge and turned the fan on high. The pages fluttered in the breeze, separating and drying as predicted.

After air-drying for hours, many pages were still damp to the touch, especially interior portions near the spine, so I decided to use my Baby Pro hair dryer. For some reason, the websites did not suggest this option. Drying the sections page by page was tedious, but the warm air directed at each damp area really worked. The downside of the page by page process was that it was all too tempting to read the pages as I dried them. I couldn't resist skipping ahead and discovering what the two main characters, Lina Cerullo and Elena Greco, were up to later in the story. The intense relationship of the two girls, their families, friends and enemies came alive in their poor Neapolitan neighborhood, as they grew from young girls in the 50's to adolescents and beyond in the recently published third volume, Those who Leave and those Who Stay, which I will read when I finish Story of a New Name.

My hair dryer completed the final drying process

Blow drying yielded two books with stiff, wavy pages, totally readable, but not very aesthetically pleasing. I may try pressing the books between boards, as The Cornell Library site suggests, or I may visit my local bookstore for a fresh copy. However, to buy the Italian version I have to order from the wonderful San Francisco online bookstore Libreria Pino, Here, which carries a large selection of Italian books and ships promptly. Unfortunately, prices are high so I may read my disfigured Italian copy after all.

Flattening air-dried books between boards
My car has also recovered, though friends are still discovering puddles in the most unlikely places.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Rain At Last

Today, December 3rd, after a night of heavy rain, my handy rain gauge registered five inches. To be truthful, this measurement was the result of the last three storms. I just couldn't empty it and start from scratch after each small accumulation. Finally, yesterday's rainy weather brought the total to three inches. Then when I went out this morning I was overjoyed to see it had topped out at 5!  Now I'll empty the rainwater and look forward to starting over.

Thank you rain gods! The plants are happy, the fire danger is nil and the hills will soon be green.