I wonder, sometimes, if the stories inside the book can be nearly as good as what’s just inside the cover. Of course, that kind of story is sometimes missing important details.
Here’s a lovely little inscription, suitable for so many books. “Happy birthday! I love you!” We will pause for an “Awww!”
Now explain to me what that inscription was doing in “A Field Guide to Cows”. Libraries, you understand, are filled with inquiring minds, and we want to know.
Here’s a nice coffee table book given as a gift, it says here–let me adjust my glasses–“To Bubble from Feather”. I tried very hard to read that as “Father” (as if that makes it any better) but it is definitely “Feather”. In this case, I’m not imagining a story to go with the inscription. I’m simply going over in my mind what a couple who call each other Bubble and Feather look like. Remember, the chances are good that Bubble, at least, was at the Newberry to drop off the books. The idea that I might have passed a Bubble, and maybe even a Feather, in the lobby and didn’t know it simply rains on my breakfast.
It isn’t just the gift inscriptions that make me wonder. Someday, I shall dedicate a whole blog to the notes I find in those travel books you bring me. I will usually find the business card of at least one cab driver, and scribbled addresses and phone numbers of hotels and restaurants. These sorts of scribbles do not disqualify a travel book from being put out at the Fair. I think they add to the saleability, like recipes scribbled in the margins of cookbooks. I do not endorse the use of these, of course: you don’t know if the original owner of the book was making the note to make sure she never, ever went to that cafe again.
But, um, this guide to London. Would the previous owner like to tell me, quietly and privately if necessary, if that is really Emma Thompson’s address and phone number you wrote in? And if it is, why? Were you going to offer her a role in your adaptation of The Newberry Book Fair Story? Or did your car scrape her fender one afternoon because you were driving on the right?
You will be graded on the creativity of the story. Anyone who calls in and tells me it’s some other Emma Thompson will go into by book of Truthful But Dull Donors. You will never be awarded my calligraphed recipe on vellum for Turkey Liver Pizza. (By the way, a constant reader suggested another turkey liver pizza recipe, so I now have two. Three more and I qualify for the list of Ten Top Terrorists.)
The curious notes don’t have to be handwritten, of course. I was studying a self-published novel of fairly recent vintage. The computer has made self-publishing much easier than once it was, and it also seems to aid in the graphic design of the cover. The person who produced the volume created a haunting cover image by downloading stuff online. But, unlike a lot of Internet artists, he has chosen to give credit to the websites involved.
If he hadn’t done that, I would never have known that the pair of eyes on the right came from one website, the eyes on the left from another, the spooky tree above them from a third website, the rose with dewdrops from a fourth, and the barbed wire from a fifth.
I was going to say something about this new century of ours again, but you’ve heard it before. I’m going to go back to visualizing Bubble and Feather. I’m thinking a sister singing duo who performed “Lollipop” on The Gong Show. That or two Mob operatives who smuggled bootleg pom-poms into the country from Marseilles. Could be both, of course. (How can anybody even open the book when the first page is so intriguing?)