My friend Ed emailed me to say he’d read The Razor’s Edge. After four previous attempts, he’d finally suffered through the first hundred pages to reach the heart of the book. He knew the novel was one of my favorites, and even though we tend to agree on the books we like (e.g., Shoeless Joe, Trout Fishing in America, Catch-22), he assumed The Razor’s Edge would be a book where we would disagree. Now that he’s read it in its entirety, he’s discovered some of what I see in the book.
Because of Ed’s email, I pulled my copy of The Razor’s Edge off the shelf. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been relying on my personal library for all of my reading, and this includes rereading some of my favorites for the second, third, sometimes fourth time.
Thirty pages into The Razor’s Edge I was reminded why Ed kept putting the book aside. The language is wordy, and most of the characters are pretentious socialites. It left me wondering how I’d managed to stay with the book the first time around. The Razor’s Edge is exactly the kind of book I usually put aside and replace with a crime novel. The answer to this question came when I set the book down to get something to drink. I happened to place it face down, and I noticed a sticker on the back cover. The sticker was mostly Chinese characters, but in English were the words “Caves Books.”
When I lived in Taiwan during the early 1990s, I was desperate for reading material. Amazon did not exist, and I knew of only two bookstores in Taipei that carried English language fiction. Caves Books was one of them. It was on the opposite side of the city from my housing complex near National Taiwan University, and it took me an hour by bus to get there. It was known extensively as a publisher of textbooks for Westerners studying Mandarin, but it also carried a limited number of imported novels. Because my choices were limited (and slanted toward late 19th/early 20th Century British writers), I sometimes brought home books I might otherwise have ignored. Also, because English language books were so hard to come by, I read everything I purchased cover to cover. I am sure I stayed with The Razor’s Edge because I had nothing else to read.
After I saw the sticker on the back cover, I realized the bookmark I was using, which had been in the book when I pulled it off the shelf, was the original cash register receipt. I purchased the book April 14, Year 82 for NT$ 83. Year 1 in Taiwan is 1912, the year the Republic of China was established. Year 82 is 1993. Eighty-three New Taiwan dollars is about US$ 2.80. I bought The Razor’s Edge twenty-seven years ago for less than $3. The remarkable thing is that the book made it back to the United States with me. When I packed to leave Taiwan, I reduced my belongings to almost nothing. The book must have been important to me for it to have made the trip.