Archive | October 2011

A book that told me to clean up the egg on my face

This is a story of being chastised by a book…

One of the things I don’t understand when I’m looking through used book sales is when people give away something that was obviously meant to be a treasured gift for them. I’ve seen this on several occasions. Often, it’s just a brief inscription. To Susie, Love Grandma and Granddad or something. And, sometimes, it’s from way back in the past when the world listened to records on the Victrola, wore skirts to their ankles and women didn’t yet have the vote. Clearly, these are an echo of lives that have most likely been lived in their entirety, and now modern book-lovers are given the gift of connecting with those of the past. Impossible to argue with the sale of those books.

But, sometimes, I’ll find something that’s so recent and has a loving inscription that it’s just been natural for my mind to wander to those giving the gift and the irony of the fact that their present is now on the sale table of a local thrift shop. Once I found a book that had been given to a little boy by his grandparents on his Bar Mitzvah. I’ve found graduation gifts, too. We all have occasions like these in our lives. The scribble of someone’s writing on these occasions becomes, for the used book shopper who stares at the words, a touchstone and really brings home the whole idea that at some point this book meant something to someone.

At a library book sale, I found a gorgeous, and really heavy, volume of Shakespeare. It’s so lovely, with historical information, a glossary, a timeline of theatrical and literary events, an extensive bibliography and color photos. I got it for a dollar. Inside, I found this inscription:

It is dated June, 1991. Twenty years have passed, and one hopes that the recipient did get pleasure, strength and comfort from the gift. There’s an irony in the giver’s wish for “infinite” pleasure and for growth “even to old age.”

I joked sarcastically about this irony at first. Clearly, this person wasn’t interested in growing with this book…. That kind of thing. But, then it occurred to me, how do I know why this gift was given away just two decades after a graduation? First of all, two decades is no small period of time to hold on to a gift, of course. But, it hit me that this person might have very reasonably needed to downsize when moving house. Sad ideas hit me, too. Maybe he needed money and sold his library of books. Maybe something went bad in the friendship and the gift was discarded. Or it could be tragic: maybe someone died.

Hence, the egg on my face.This is the book that, quite rightly, pointed out I needed a napkin.

By the way, a book recommendation that has nothing to do with Shakespeare, inscriptions or eggs: David Foster Wallace’s This is Water is probably something I’ve mentioned before, but bears repeating again and again. He does a beautiful job talking about the risks of making judgments.






Pre-Pan Am, a book lover dreams about being a stewardess

I’ve been watching the new show Pan Am and find it reassuringly solid in its storytelling, something that surprises me these days when it comes to television programs. It’s kind of charming, thus, to have perused my shelf in search of more inscriptions and found Jane, Stewardess of the Air Lines, a children’s novel from 1934 by Ruthe S. Wheeler that links nicely into the them of air travel stories, young women and dreams.

Pan Am is partly built around the idea of air travel with a “new breed” of woman, the flight attendant. Watching the show, I was scratching my head, thinking surely there must have been stewardesses¬† prior to the sixties, those iconic baby blue Pan Am carry-on bags and tight uniforms. I mean, I’d seen them in movies and on TV, hadn’t I? I suppose Pan Am just glammed it up back then and re-birthed the idea of being served drinks in the sky by beautiful women. I guess they did a good job of it, if they’re gimmick inspired, some forty years later, a very expensive-looking TV drama.

Clearly, though, it isn’t just us and twenty-somethings from the Kennedy era who were taken by the idea of stewardessing. After all, the book,

published in ’34 banks on excitement merely by mentioning Jane’s job. Obviously, working for “the airlines” as a stewardess was quite something, and those keywords alone could carry the promise of a great adventure. It’s kind of amusing to see Jane on the cover wearing a flight cap and goggles like she was also going to pilot the plane. I think we’re still waiting for that series to happen.

So, I guess little Miss Jean Staples may well have been quite taken with the idea of being a stewardess. It looks from the penciled writing like she got the book at Christmas in 1938, possibly after another little girl named Virginia Cartwright. Somewhere along the line Miss Jean, or someone, decided to add a little poem should the book be lost.







“If this Book should ever roam, box its ears and send it home.”

Obviously, another child who loved books.

I get so emotional…when it comes to books about punctuation.

So emotional, at least when I began Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Trusse that I was steaming on the subway that she took punctuation waaaaaaay too seriously. Thank goodness I stopped reading it for a while (for no particular reason, by the way). It gave me a chance to get out of whatever weird humorless funk I was in and really enjoy the book.

How often do you get to laugh out loud at a book about commas? Or even exclamation points? How often can you regale family in the park with your readings of passages from a grammar book? Never, especially for that last question. And, yet, I did all of the above when reading Trusse’s book. If you ever go to a dinner party with a group of English teachers, memorize one or two tidbits from this book and you’ll be prepared with auxiliary conversation topics when weather talk gets boring. You will know more than they do, so be judicious in sharing your knowledge to avoid bruised egos. But, I’m telling you, whip out one tiny factoid on Aldus Manutius the Elder and the debut of the semi-colon, work it the right way, sit back and enjoy.


Obviously, this was a child who loved books….

I went to an estate sale and inquired if there were any books being sold. A gentleman said yes, but only a few in the basement of the house. So, everyone there seems lovely and I decide that after walking a bit in an over-warm outfit I should probably take a look, even if there are only a few books. They were right; perhaps ten books were sitting on an old stool and many were merely old books on electronics, not at all interesting to me, though the electronic engineers in my family may have disagreed. It was a quick job of sorting through these books. I’m a sucker for old kids books of the Grosset and Dunlap style and, lo, there was one or two. Now, in truth, I’m not necessarily going to buy them just because I see them despite my attraction to them and the fact that I have mini-collection already. I was looking for a reason to buy it (Huckleberry Finn), or a way to decide, when I opened the cover. And, look what I found:

Little Jane all those many years ago (around 1948 or sometime after) had written an important notice on one of the front pages. She gives all the information you could possibly need to reunite book and child if the need arose. And, she gives a very enthusiastic advance ‘thank you!’ too. I think Mrs. Crocker would have been well-pleased with Jane.

P.S. – Dig the old phone number. It’s like out of The Dick Van Dyke show or I Love Lucy. SO much more stylish back then, don’t you think? Ah, words…


Used Book Makeover – Dragonwyck edition

I really liked the cover of the volume of Dragonwyck that I read some weeks ago. I tried ordering the same copy (Houghton Mifflin, 1940s), but got a different one (Triangle Books, 1940s). So, I found a nifty machine in a library that makes beautiful scans of books. I sent them to my email and printed them on glossy paper and put together my own unique edition. So, here’s the cover of my customized volume.

And here is the title page and author info section from the Houghton Mifflin copy, now pasted into my suddenly spiffier Triangle edition.

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

I just finished Mariana by Susanna Kearsley. It’s got the genetic memory/reincarnation element that The Winter Sea has, but this is an earlier book of hers. It’s – as corny as I’m making this sound – like a love song to romance and eternal love. And, I like that kind of thing.

I like this book, too. Why is there always, in these time travel books, a poetry-loving handsome solid salt-of-the-earth Scotsman? I liked that, too. I liked the serendipity and the pondering on the “more things on Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy” idea. Whether or not you believe in reincarnation, it’s a fun idea in fiction.

I’ve lately been reading books like Kearsley’s and Anya Seton’s Green Darkness and even Diana Gabaldon that deal with twists in time and lives lived.¬† So far, so good, and quite entertaining and intriguing. Enough so, in fact, that I took a stroll on this beautiful Fall day to get Shirley Maclaine’s Out on a Limb from the library.¬† I am not a believer in reincarnation and, frankly, it sounds like an exhausting prospect to have to live again and again. But, I’ve got to admit, whether it’s fiction or personal beliefs or pop-philosophy ideas or more serious philosophical thinking, it’s a great example of how humans try to make sense and find meaning in life. And, how we come up with some wonderful stories and sentiments as a result.

So, a recommendation for Susanna Kearsley’s Mariana and we’ll see how far I get with Maclaine’s book. It’ll be interesting to read the memoir as a backdrop to fictional pieces.