Saturday, April 12, 2008

They Don't All Have to be Inscribed "For Peter"

Although I'd like nothing better than to have my entire book collection personally inscribed -- one volume after another on the shelf signed "To Peter," "For Peter," "For Peter, my favorite person in the world" -- it clearly isn't possible. Many of my favorites authors have died -- sometimes before I was even born. Others are still alive, but seldom do booksignings.

Then there are some I'd be leery of meeting.

I was unfamiliar with Robin McKinley's work before she received a Newbery Honor for THE BLUE SWORD in 1983. I promptly bought the book for my collection but, not being a big fantasy fan, I set it aside and didn't read it. Two years later, when she won the Newbery for THE HERO AND THE CROWN, I knew it was time to bite the bullet and read both books. And of course I promptly fell in love with the kingdom of Damar and McKinley's evocative writing.

No longer "place holders" in my Newbery collection, THE BLUE SWORD and THE HERO AND THE CROWN were now treasured volumes and I thought from time to time that it would be nice to have the books signed by the author.

Then I stumbled across Robin McKinley's website. The one where she refers to herself as a "Witch from Hell." (Well, it rhymed with that.) And the animated graphic contained red hot flames. She included a list of what NOT to say or do when writing her a letter. As I recall, she doesn't want us calling her "Robin" if we don't know her. (Sorry, Ms. McKinley!) Gets ticked if grown-ups say, "Even though I'm an adult I love your books." And does not (I repeat: does NOT) want anyone asking when the next Damar book is coming out.

After reading that, I decided I probably didn't want my books personally inscribed. Even though I suspect that her warnings and prohibitions might be slightly tongue-in-cheek, I didn't want to be the one to test her. Besides, I'm so inarticulate in social situations that it would be just like me to attend a booksigining, get all excited and say something like "Hi Robin!" (STRIKE ONE.) "I'm one of your adult readers." (STRIKE TWO.) "And I can't wait for the next Damar novel." (YOU'RE OUT!)

Anyway, I now do own signed copies of the two Damar novels. They're not inscribed to me, but that's okay. They belonged to the late, well-known children's book editor Elizabeth Shub (called "Libby" by friends) and the incriptions are really wonderful.

For example, I have her "first official turning-over-of-new-leaf signature on a title page" on THE BLUE SWORD. (Click on picture to get a larger, more readable image.)


which seems to indicate that, Ms. McKinley...spent some time working at Greenwillow with Elizabeth Shub.

Those two books are first editions, but I also have a fifth printing of THE BLUE SWORD, which I particularly love because it appears that Ms. Shub LOST her first copy of that book (though she obviously later found it, as I have it) and Ms. McKinley had to give her a replacement copy:

She tries to sound grumpy -- especially when she says, "I have never claimed to be a nice person."

But after reading these warm inscriptions, and enjoying the word-pictures she creates (I'd like to have visited Shub's office and seen one of those sunsets!) I suspect she's a lot nicer than I thought.

And I've got the books to prove it.


Kim Laird said...

Dear Peter,

I've written Robin McKinley two fan letters & she's written me back some wonderful responses. She's a nice person, so you don't have to worry about meeting her or writing to her someday, if you chose to do so. But I think that her series have been so popular that people have overwhelmed her with demands (even nice demands can be irritating). Her webpage is tongue-in-cheek, I think, because the rest of her webpage is very much the voice you hear in the novels.

I'd love to meet her one day, and I plan to rehearse some good things to say to her, and not "Where's more Damar/Sunshine" etc. books. I can see where that might get tiresome....

Thanks for your blog. I love reading it & I love reading about the inscriptions & the various research you do into the background of the authors or the inscriptions.

Charlotte said...

Robin Mckinley has very prolific blog going, called Days in the Life, which was until very recently here-- and is now apparently here-- She mostly writes about dogs, food, gardening, bellringing, and other aspects of non-writing life. She seems very friendly!