Messages from Beyond

A couple of people left charming notes for me in books this past week. I have had notes before, some of which I sent upstairs to the collection, some of which I deposited in the bank, and some of which I set aside to snicker over in a blog one day. But both of these notes were notes from the author.

Now, notes from the author of a book are not all that rare, either. A lot of inscribed books will include a note that can get chattier than what is scribbled on the front free endpaper. “Best wishes” may be on the first page above the author’s name, but in the note she is free to write, “Thanks for having me over last Tuesday; I shall never forget the eels.” This is the sort of thing that can occasionally get sent upstairs to sit in the Newberry’s Modern Manuscripts section, so that one day a researcher can get to the bottom of the eel story.

But these notes are not like those. These were addressed to me, or, rather, to anybody who picked up the book. A colorful book of Walter Smith’s travel experiences, Glimpses of Spain, includes as a loose page an abbreviated account of how difficult it was to get the book into print, and apologizing to (really pleading for sympathy from) any passing reader.

He wrote the book in five days in 1953, and expected it would be easy enough to see it through to publication. And he decided he would like to have the book printed in Spain, by what he describes as an “excellent printing establishment”. The problem was that no one involved in setting up the book spoke a word of English. Setting up type in a language you don’t know can throw you off, of course, but he describes quite soulfully the difficulties of trying to explain English spelling while speaking Spanish. When the corrections were made, of course, the typesetter made a series of entirely new errors.

He also notes the “miraculously” good illustrations. The thing is that the illustrator also could not read English, which can make the illustration of a text difficult. It should have been impossible, Mr. Smith notes, because the artist, being entirely deaf, couldn’t even listen to Mr. Smith explaining the text to him. They had to pass notes. (The illustrator, Lorenzo Goni, is regarded in Spain as a major cartoonist, illustrator, and engraver; he was deaf from childhood. One wonders if he gave up American commissions after Mr. Smith.)

Mr. Smith hopes the reader will find the book interesting enough to justify his five months’ war with a “ruggedly individualistic typesetter”. I’m not planning to read it, myself. It can’t possibly be as much fun as the note.

The other book is a drabber item, in a sort of Penguin paperback green. It is “50 Years of Service” by O.G. Goring, the second owner/manager of the Goring Hotel in London. The Goring Hotel is one of those hotels you see on television. Kate Middleton’s family stayed there during the most recent royal wedding. In 1953, for the Coronation of Elizabeth II, it was annexed to Buckingham Palace to deal with all the guests. Its history reaches back into Edwardian days, when O.G. Goring’s father established it as the first hotel in the world with an equal number of bathrooms and bedrooms. (Each guest thus had a private bath. Mr. Goring also insisted on central heating.)

O.G. Goring took over the business from his father, and continued the tradition for fine food and wine, and with an attention to detail which probably meant I wouldn’t have lasted on staff there for more than twenty minutes. It is one of THOSE hotels, and Mr. Goring looks back from 1960 at the first half of the Hotel’s history.

And he has included a little slip of paper in the front of the book to summarize the contents. This is his summary, in full: “Some interesting facts and anecdotes about hotel life. All true. I hope the contents may induce peaceful sleep.”

I may just read that one.

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