"Seven Types of Ambiguity"
from The Lottery and Other Stories, by Shirley Jackson
It turns out there actually is a book by that name (Seven Types of Ambiguity). Interesting to note, but as I've never read it, I'm sure any significance in the fact goes right over my head.
-- This is maybe the first time that I really noticed (for myself) that Mr. Harris had popped into yet another story. I knew early on, after reading a mention of it in a review of an earlier story, that James Harris (the Daemon Lover) would be making repeated appearances, throughout the book. As I've mentioned before, I tend not to pay much attention to names in short stories. (I guess it seems pointless, when I'm not going to be spending more than a few pages with them.) Well, this time I did take note, because it seemed almost humorously appropriate that he spends his days working in a dark basement. (Check out this essay about James Harris in The Lottery and Other Stories, if you're familiar with the book. I've only read parts of it, because I didn't want to risk spoiling the stories I haven't read yet, but it's interesting.)
-- For one strange moment, I wondered if this story might be set in some dystopian future-- or just after a revolution, emerging from a dystopian future. The way the "big man" spoke about reading and books: "'Never saw so many books in my life,' the big man said. 'I never thought I'd see the day when I'd just walk into a bookstore and buy up all the books I always wanted to read.'" I know books (particularly "the classics") haven't always been so affordable and easily accessible as they are today, but... the tone of reverence surprised me.
-- No good deed goes unpunished. The college student goes out of his way to help Mr. Big Man make a list of authors that he and his wife will enjoy-- a simple gesture of goodwill. In return for that kindness, Mr. Big Man buys the one (rare) book that he knows the student has been longing to buy for who-knows-how-long. Furthermore, this is a book that Mr. Big Man and his wife will never be able to understand or even care to read. He buys it out of spite, just to keep the student from owning it.
You read along, hoping that Mr. Big Man will buy the rare book for the student-- but never really expecting it to happen, because this is Shirley Jackson we're dealing with, and people don't just go around doing nice things for each other (in most of her work). Of course he buys the book out from underneath the kid. What else would he do?
...I'm going to need some soft, sweet fluff, when I'm done with this book!