Among the joys of the week–oh, the thirty garbage bags, the donation of “fifteen to twenty boxes” which turned out to be fifty-one, all those Management textbooks–somebody left ten boxes with a distinctly political turn. Not only was there a thorough overview of domestic and world politics in the second half of the twentieth century, but a host of titles which expanded on and illustrated the field: biographies of politicians, great works of political philosophy, history books, and a library of the history of espionage.
We had several books on espionage during the Civil War or the American Revolution, but the collection really came alive when it reached World War II and the Cold War. This part of the donation probably amounted to a box and a half all by itself. It was the political part of the donation all over again: books on theory and planning, histories of spy operations, biographies of agents, and accounts by the men and women who did the work in the field and lived to tell the tale.
Most exciting, perhaps, was a signed copy of Strangers on a Bridge (which in 2015 became the movie Bridge of Spies, with Tom Hanks playing the author of this book). But what made me wonder was a copy of William Stevenson’s autobiography, A Man Called Intrepid.
This was such a bestseller it is by no means a rare book, and signed copies are not all that scarce, either. But it was in the box right next to A Man Called Lucy, the story of another part of World War II spy lore.
In an utterly undisciplined brain, the thought at once arises, “So is this a World War II spy thing, to call your book A Man Called….”
But from another part of that brain, a voice replied, “What about A Man Called Horse?”
That book (and movie) had nothing to do with the Second World War. And on my way between Westerns and Military History, I passed Religion, where I saw that somebody else had given me the life of missionary Peter Marshall, A Man Called Peter.
So all the while I was pricing and packing books about spies, I was wondering, “Who did start this A Man Called Something tradition?”
A quick check online showed me the Newberry Book Fair, for all its magnitude, has barely scratched the surface. I found A Man Called Norman, A Man Called Jeff, A Man Called Black, A Man Called White (these two had nothing to do with each other), A Man Called Travers, A Man Called Bracken, A Man Called Ty, A Man Called Pobiddy, A Man Called Alias, A Man Called Possum, A Man Called Alamo…it hoes on and on.
The style seems to fit mysteries and westerns the best, though romances dip in now and again. A few mysteries before 1930 used “THE Man Called”, but we had to wait for the bleaker, more hardboiled days for the simpler title. In 1932, no less a bleak loner than Sam Spade appeared in Dashiell Hammett’s short story A Man Called Spade. It seems to have set the tone. A few years later, a novel of Bruno Frank’s appeared to good sales under the name A Man Called Cervantes, but there were no further uses of the style until 1944, when a paperback of Sam Spade stories appeared under the title of the 1932 short story.
Then came A Man Called Jones, A Man Called White, A Man Called Tempest, A Man Called Destiny….you could make a nice shelf or two of books starting with those three words, just as I once suggested for books which begin “The Joy of….” It could be a whole new field of collecting no one else has thought of yet.
No need to thank me. It’s all in a day’s work for…a man called Blogsy.