Saturday, January 12, 2008
Two Phrases Collectors Hate. Usually.
First there's the thrill of discovering the book you want listed in a catalog or on an internet site. Correct title! Correct author! First edition! Then your eyes light on a phrase that changes everything. Sometimes the phrase is "ex-lib," meaning the book being offered once belonged to a library and is now probably inked all over with library stamps and contains torn remnants of a pocket and date due slip. Other times the phrase is "book club edition," meaning it was mass produced on cheap paper and doesn't have the distinctive elements that one associates with a true first edition. You close the catalog or log off the internet site because no self-respecting book collector is interested in "ex lib" volumes or "book club" printings. Usually.
A friend recently asked if I had any ex-lib books in my collection. I started to say, "No way!" then remembered that I have at least two -- the 1935 Newbery Medal winner DOBRY by Monica Shannon and the 1962 Newbery winner THE BRONZE BOW by Elizabeth George Speare. Even though I now own true first editions of both titles, I still keep these duplicate ex-lib copies on my shelves. They're nothing much to look at. Both have been rebound. Both have pockets glued to the endpapers. Yet I keep these volumes because they are IDENTICAL to the copies that I used to check out of the local library again and again when I was a kid. Just seeing the colors of these bindings (DOBRY's grayish-turquoise, THE BRONZE BOW's creamy blue) takes me back thirty years, as does touching the thick woven endpapers and covers, which are always slightly cold and feel rough yet glossy. The books have no real value (I think I bought them for twenty-five cents each) but they are as important to my collection as any hundred dollar book because of the sensory, tactile memories they provide.
I also have a few book club editions in my collection. The Peoples Book Club published an edition of Mary Stolz's READY OR NOT that I keep mainly because of Victor Olsen's endpaper illustration. I'm sure the original Harper edition of this novel did not include illustrated endpapers and I appreciate that fact that the book club made this extra effort. I love the winter-in-the-city setting, with the snow coming down, the Christmas tree slung over the teenage boy's shoulder, the pensive expression of the teenage girl, and the openiness in the younger boy's face. Wish I had a copy of this picture to frame.
And here's another book club volume I own: THE WIDER HEART by Norma Johnston. I actually love most of Johnston's later books ("The Keeping Days" series, etc.) but her earlier work tends to be...well, awfully...prissy. This one is no exception, starting with the heart design on the cover, the fact that the heroine calls her mother "Mimsy," and that it was published by the "Best Loved Girls' Books" book club!
So why do I keep it on my shelves?
Because I can't separate this mellifluous, muliebral book with the folded note I found tucked inside it after I brought it home from a used booksale. Please click on the picture to enlarge the image:
I've owned this book for a good ten years, and still can't stop thinking about Pam, whose tale is potentionally more dramatic than the story found within the pages of Johnston's novel. Did she actually run away? Did she take THE WIDER HEART with her on the lam, or leave it behind with the note inside for Mr. and Mrs. Mack to find? How long did she "survive" on her $41...and did she ever return home?
Posted by Peter D. Sieruta at 4:27 AM
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Interesting stuff found in used books could be a blog subject on its own.
Pam may be a descendant of Cornelia Lucinda McCormack, who owned a 19th century book I once bought simply for the note she had written inside on the endpaper. In her flowery, yet childish, 19th century penmanship, she had written:
Do not take this book
If you love your life
For the owner carries
A butcher knife.
It's accompanied by a detailed drawing of a butcher knife, dripping blood.
I've always wondered about her in the same way you wonder about Pam.
The permanence of the internet makes this kind of joke even more amusing. I just saw this today, and it wasn't until the photo was MENTIONED in the post that I looked at it closely and scrolled back up to the date to see if it was an AF.
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