Annual Tradition | Newberry

Annual Tradition

So today I’d like to discuss annuals. Not that kind and not that kind, though each is interesting. I meant the other….

See, in my part of the country, in my day, no one bought their high school yearbook. They bought their “annual”. I don’t know if people still say that or whether it was just one generation of weirdos. I do like this kind of annual. High school and college yearbooks are not the drugs on the market that once they were, now that people have started selling those of celebrities for thousands of dollars. Always a nice investment.

We recently got an example of another kind of annual. Publishers used to publish gift books around this time of year: collections of color pictures and poetry and fiction and (sometimes) improving articles, highly suitable for holiday giving. The period for this was roughly the 1820s through the 1860s, though some publishers, especially in England, went on publishing them to this day. We just got in the Sons of Temperance annual for 1850, which I am sure will be a welcome addition to the Newberry’s quite massive collection of THIS kind of annual.

But I was talking to someone at a holiday shindig this week (no spiked egg nog, but some really excellent sugar cookies. The chocolate chip cookies were right up there, too.) And he happened to mention his Annual.

“Herzog, by Saul Bellow,” he said. “Best book I’ve read. I read it again at least once a year.”

This is a habit which numerous people have: probably more than admit it. It was mentioned in some of the publicity material for The Lord of the Rings movies that Christopher Lee, the movie’s Saruman, read that novel ponce a year. There was a period in my childhood when I read all of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books every year, but I’m not sure that counts the same way. I think a true Annual should be one book.

It starts, I suppose, with those giants among our ancestors who read the Bible every year from cover to cover. None of these people, so far as I know, left notes on how they made it through all the begats. (I know people who claim it wasn’t the begats that kept them from making this a habit: it was the Psalms. They went on to be poetry skippers in other books as well.) Other devotional works followed: some people read Pilgrim’s Progress every year, while others worked their way through Paradise Lost.

Secular works developed which brought on the same response. There are those who made their way through The Faerie Queene every year, or the complete works of Shakespeare (which I would disqualify on the same grounds as the Oz books.) Don Quixote became a popular Annual as so, in their turn, did Moby Dick and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or virtually any other work of value, at least to the reader. Someone out there probably quietly rereads Sweet Valley Twins: A Christmas Without Elizabeth every year.

Do I LIKE this kind of Annual? After all, if you read the same book over and over, you’re not likely to be buying other books, are you? Well, yes, you are: you ought to be able to read more than one book in any given year, and having an Annual doesn’t mean you don’t have one afternoon stands with other titles.

Besides, people dedicated to an Annual are ALWAYS buying more copies of it. That copy of Water, Water Everywhere is held together by rubber bands and stuffed with years of bookmarks: one day it MUST fall into uselessness and you want a spare copy against that day. And an Annual is the book you have to recommend to other people, and having three or four extras on hand means you can always give a copy to a friend without violating the sanctity of your copy, with its familiar cup rings and coffee stains.

We like ALL kinds of annual books. (It’s why we have an annual book fair.)

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