The Game's Afoot | Newberry

The Game's Afoot

We channel our inner Nancy Drews quite a lot at this Book Fair. Sometimes we need to track down information about a particularly elusive book, and sometimes we just wonder about the intellectual lives of the people who donate box after box of books on philosophy, mathematics, and rifles.

Take this box. The previous owner used it for books before this. All the boxes from this donation are labeled with subjects, but the books inside do not conform to the labels. This tells a familiar tale. Someone moved, packed their books, and then unpacked them in their new abode. On realizing how many books there were, they decided to sort through them and pack a few into those same boxes for sending to a deserving library. So the box marked Jungian Psychology might actually be filled with paperback mysteries.

But this box. What, exactly, does it signify about the owner with its label “Books—Joy of Sex, etc.”? Speculation has been running rampant, but I think I will leave you to your own deductions.

THIS book was a puzzle. It is part of a series published by the government of Russia once the government of the Soviet Union was no more: a series of volumes on the cultural legacy of Russia’s long history in suede slipcases. Another volume of this series fell into our hands a couple of years ago, and sold on the Collectibles table for $300. And THIS volume is signed by the internationally famous expert who had written the book. What do you suppose THAT would sell for?

Not a single bookselling website could tell me anything. I couldn’t even find the world-famous author until a stray listing suggested that in the transliteration from Russian to English, his name could be spelled several different ways. But THIS book was nowhere to be found. Was it that incredibly rare?

There is a failsafe for books which are incredibly rare. I checked the Newberry’s online catalog. Of COURSE the Newberry has a copy. The catalog record gives the title in English as an alternate, and uses a transliteration of the Russian title in the title line. I tried typing THAT into the various book websites.

Bingo. Nobody had a copy of the English version for sale, but there were copies of the book in Russian to be found (each with a different translation of the title into English, none of them matching the translation the publishers used.) You will find this rare volume of “Russia In Maps” in Collector’s Row come July. We don’t alphabetize by title there, so what title you look for won’t matter. Just look for the suede slipcase.

Another mystery we deal with is “What the heck IS this?” I try to look up which have been mimeographed, because this generally indicates they had a limited distribution. This does NOT mean anybody wants to buy them. But I start by giving them the benefit of the doubt.

This one is held together with a paper clip. It is “Sparrow On a Monday Morning” by David French. The cover sheet suggests this is a script for an episode of a television series called “Shoestring Theatre”. The episode was filmed in 1965, and, to judge by the penciled notes on the pages, this copy belonged to the actor portraying “Michael”.

Searching for clues through the Interwebs, I found a photograph of David French working with a small theatre group in 1965. And, with help, the depths of online media data revealed that Shoestring Theatre was a low-budget series of experimental drama which broadcast, mainly as a local show out of Montreal, between 1961 and 1971. The producer and assistant producer on this episode are listed on our script, but Google has never heard of them. (So far.)

So I really know enough to start with: this is a script for a two-person drama broadcast in 1965, and presumably filmed. I can certainly make up a price and offer it for sale, but several questions remain.

Who played Julie and Michael? Does the film for this episode exist somewhere, or are the scripts for “Sparrow On a Monday Morning” all that remains of the story? And what happened? See, our script is incomplete; it ends in the middle of Michael’s monologue on page 41. So I have no notion what became of Michael, a troubled, haunted, intense young man (I would have cast William Shatner in the role. Maybe Elizabeth Montgomery would have been free for Julie.)

I will continue to investigate. At least it’ll keep me from worrying about “Books—Joy of Sex, etc.”

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