Known By Your Associations

So March 18 is the big launch of the book Other People’s Books which, contrary to what you might expect, is not my autobiography. It deals with provenance, which I blogged about a while back, and association copies, which I blogged about even farther back. Basically it’s about books which, though interesting in themselves, take on an added importance because of whom they belonged to: the book Copernicus inscribed to the man who taught him about logarithms or the copy of his dictionary sent by Samuel Johnson to a woman he may have been planning to marry.

You can still attend the book launch dinner if you get a message to the Caxton club at caxtonclub@newberry.org: dinner is $65, but there is for that night only a $25 discount on the price of the book (full price is $75.). You can come to the Caxton Newberry Symposium on Association copies from 9 A.M. to 2 P.M. the next day: that’s free, but there’s no discount on the book.

What I really wanted to talk about, though, was you, dear blogreader. I know you’ve heard that you are known by the company you keep. Were you also aware that you are known by the books you give away?

No, you’re not Mark Twain: maybe nobody will ever care what YOU wrote in the margins of Divine Secrets of tha Ya-Ya Sisterhood. But you can’t be sure of that, y’know. They taught me in grade school to remember that you’re always being watched. Someone out there is impressed by you, one way or another. You may not live to see it, but you may well be the inspiration for that Pulitzer-winning volume of poetry the brat living next door to you will write in the year 2063.

So I thought I’d pass along a few tips, just in case, long after you are around to notice it, some book of yours, given to the Book Fair today, winds up in a Virtual Exhibition of Association Copies on the Newberry website.

This may seem elementary, but one of you skipped this invaluable step this week. If you plan on donating your copy of 101 Ways To Enhance Your Sex Life, remember to either a) remove your name, or b) take out all those Post-It Notes. Scholars may one day analyze your posture in light of possible spinal injury from page 137.

Cookbooks, on the other hand, benefit from marginalia, and so will your reputation. Notes like “Salty” or “Runny” speak to your taste, and “Add one extra egg” shows you were a person who was willing to expertiment. It may also answer the question scholars have been puzzled by since your collection of cash register receipts was inventoried and they found you bought twelve boxes of cumin on October 13, 2019.

Travel books are similar. Students of cinema may one day want to follow your exact route to the town where you met the young cab driver who would later become a great actor and base his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in the first Guatemalan production of A Christmas Carol on you. Once they see you have written “Overcharged for lunch, gypped by cabbie”, their Ph.D. will be assured.

We do get association copies at the Book Fair which do not rely on future developments. About fifteen years ago, we were given, from sources now forgotten, a copy of a book on politics by composer Georges Antheil, which was inscribed by Antheil to Henry R. Luce, founder of Time magazine, among others. Henry had scribbled in the margins throughout the book. And a couple of weeks ago, we had a collection of books on herbal medicine which had belonged to one of America’s great herbalists. Vaguely interesting, but he had written his name in one book and, above it, wrote “This is full of errors”. Somebody out there needs this.

On the other hand, if I can give you one more piece of advice, I don’t know why ANYBODY writes their name in diet books. If you really want that on exhibit some day next to the printout of the full body scan from O’Hare, it’s up to you. But, honest, I’d as soon look at your cookbooks. 

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