The Cat Came Back | Newberry

The Cat Came Back

I should not like it said that your Uncle Blogsy is wishy-washy. He is, frequently, but I do not like to have it said. Sometimes the things I write in my blog are taken a little more strongly than I intended them, or that a guideline I hand down is assumed to be an infallible rule. (Yes, I am thinking again of the volunteer who heard me say “Every book ever published had a first edition: not every first edition is a treasure” and chose to go around the world saying, “First editions aren’t worth anything. Uncle Blogsy said so.”

So when I male cutting comments about the things you wrote in your books, I don’t wish you to infer that I want you to cut out the things which have been written in your books. A chunk cut out of a page is more disfiguring than just about any inscription, and very few people are going to care about your name and address in a book that’s fifty years old. (Especially if you moved out of that address in 1987, after that incident of Uncle Jasper and the home-made root beer.)

What I object to is not knowing the whole story behind the inscription in your copy of Diamonds are Forever, where somebody named Larry wrote “This should remind you of the eggs in Brighton.” Were you smuggling eggs that year, or did you meet Sean Connery eating eggs in Brighton, or what? I don’t say every book should be left perfectly featureless; I just want a footnote to put my mind at rest.

An inscription can contribute to its own story, however frustrating, in the end, that story can be. I was with my mother at a book sale once (yes, this is a picture of an apple falling not far from a tree) when she picked up a cookbook not wildly celebrated in the history of cookbooks, “Mrs. Appleyard’s Kitchen.” This was Louise Andrews Kent’s 1941 example of something which became more common later on. She had written a number of books about a character named Mrs. Appleyard, and then decided to bring out a cookbook tie-in to the series.

My mother looked through it, noting, “I had a copy of this. But I lent it to a friend of mine and she moved, and I never saw it again.” She flipped to the front of the book and stared. There was her name, written on the flyleaf.

The fact that my mother had moved to the town where the book sale was being held years after she lost the book to someone who had moved to another state entirely made the whole thing more mysterious. Something similar happened to one of our hard-working Book Fair volunteers, who took the books from the Poetry shelf to price and pack.

“Huh,” she said to me, “I had this book in high school.” She held up a cheerfully colored paperback poetry anthology that I remembered well from my own high school days.

“Maybe we all did,” I said, and headed out to find out about a report that six boxes of encyclopedias had been left at Lampe Landing out back. So I was out of the room and didn’t hear exactly what it was she said when she opened it and found her name—and the name of her brother, who had had the book first and handed it on to her when her time came to take the Lit class—written neatly in the front of the paperback.

This has happened throughout history—Anne Parrish, whose novel The Perennial Bachelor is a perennial Book Fair donation, grew up adoring a children’s book called Jack Frost and Other Stories. Years later, on a tour of the continent, she spied a copy in a German bookstore. Her husband picked it up and, how did you guess, found her name and address written inside.

So you see that writing your name in a book can lead to delightful reunions, but ultimately frustrating ones as well. None of these books had new or interesting details written inside to explain where the book had BEEN all these years. The book of poetry had traveled across town, the cookbook across a few counties, and the children’s book jumped continents. Maybe it had passed through the hands of year after year of Lit students, or maybe someone took it home, put it on a bookcase, and left it there until a spring cleaning years later,

True: if those kids hadn’t written their names in books, they would be spared the frustration of not knowing. But they also would never have had the reunion.