Kilroy | Newberry


“To my magnificent yum yum, in memory of a Happy Thanksgiving.”

Y’know, I warned you folks about looking at the inscriptions in your books before you donate them. Anyway, it’s a nice example of Book As Memento.

It’s that mildly melancholy time of year when I look over those things I have put off pricing. In July, I must either price them or put them off for another year. I was pricing my way through a shelf that mixed opera libretti and skinny photography exhibition catalogs. Sometimes, we get a donation with just one or two libretti, but more often it will be a stack of forty or fifty. Pricing forty or fifty libretti is somehow a thing I always put off ‘til tomorrow.

This particular stack, as it turned out, was made up of special souvenirs. Each and every libretto included a page clipped from the program, showing the cast list of the performance the original owner had attended in 1920 or thereabouts. Libretti are prone to this sort of thing, as are Playbills. A ticket will be stapled to the cover, and a libretto will have the Lyric Opera Study Sheet folded into the middle. If you were wondering: no, this does not make them one bit more valuable. In fact, those rusty staples and paperclips are viewed as a hazard by people who flip through the assortment.

It is touching, though, the attempt to preserve the magic of the evening. One donor’s love of the theatre was so pronounced that every Playbill or libretto she gave us was accompanied by the ticket, the airline ticket to New York, a piece of blank stationery from the hotel where she stayed, calendars of the week’s events clipped from the paper, and flyers from any museum she visited on the trip. (I was hoping for a menu or two, but she drew the line there.) Each bundle was held together with a fine vintage rubber band.

As she went to New York several times a year for several decades, this made for quite a file. I could have cornered the market in desiccated rubber bands. Do not come looking for this at the Book Fair. I have, um, set the whole file aside, hoping that I will someday think of something to do with it.

Did the owner really think that somebody would need a record of what plays she saw in New York, and what else she did there? Or did she pull these bundles out from time to time to riffle through and recall the wonderful evenings spent with Beverly Sills or Helen Hayes? Maybe the magic was so powerful that she had to keep the evidence which proved it had all really happened, that she was there at the first performance of Raisin in the Sun or the last appearance on the podium of Leonard Bernstein.

I hope you’ll think of these things as you pore through our offerings this month. The books are not only containers of knowledge, but repositories of memories and associations unknown to the author (and the next owner). I hope you are more impressed by that thirty year-old ticket and those ninety year-old cast lists than by the scratch on your thumb from the staple.

Oh, and that inscription to the magnificent yum yum: that was in one of the photography books. Too much to expect that it would be in the libretto of The Mikado. Can’t have everything.


I love have purchased quite a few libretti at the book sale, but never come across these interesting souvenirs. Too bad - I love that stuff! Perhaps it is because I usually arrive late in the sale and have been beaten to it by some other sentimental fool. I'll be on the lookout this year - there is still a little space on the libretto shelf.

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