More Stories From Boxes of Books

Ah, the thinks you can think when people are pushing books at you all the time! Thanks to all of you who have been doing your best to keep me thinking.

“Where the heck do I put this?” leaps to mind quite often. I have a book here by America’s leading medical intuitive. For those of you who have not consulted such a person, a medical intuitive is able to sense what is wrong with you without having to run lots of expensive and uncomfortable tests. I expect I will put that book into Health & Medicine; all the other categories that leap to mind would just start an argument.

Then there’s this book on raising chinchillas. Books on pets normally go into our Nature category, with the other animal books, but since the second half of the book deals with skinning the little critters and turning them into coats, I may slip it into How To. Again, putting it into the Fashion category would just start a fight.

Inscriptions are, as I have noted before, always a source of thought. This week I especially liked “This book is on loan from [John Doe], April, 2000.” I hope it’s a long-term loan, Mr. [Doe], because somebody else is going to be borrowing it (for money) in July.

A person who knew a lot of authors sent in a collection of books of a type I don’t usually see signed: a history textbook, a small guidebook to French art, a European bar guide, etc. I am reminded that it isn’t just the novels and the books of poetry and the autobiographies that come with autographs: all these other types of books had writers, too, and those writers had friends who (temporarily) treasured signed copies.

We had a book arrive called “The World IS Round!” I thought we had settled that. Turns out the book is actually a hardcover advertising brochure for a seven-month around-the-world cruise. Prices start at $2000, but this was the height of the Roaring Twenties, so there were no doubt plenty of ladies with strings of pearls and cigarette holders willing to take these trips in the company of men who had diamond collar studs.

Or maybe not, because the tour was slated to start December 3, 1929, just 35 days after the Stock Market Crash. I hope people who booked the tour in June were able to get their deposit back in November.

And somebody sent in the Newberry’s Annual Report for 1992, which had a picture of former President Lawrence W. Towner on the cover. And in a year of commemoration, I thought that a paragraph or two to note the twentieth anniversary of the year of his death might not be amiss.

I suppose one OUGHT to mention the interior renovation, the construction of the stacks building, the achievements of the Conservation Lab, and all that other stuff when recounting the tale of the Towner years. All kind of important. But it was Bill Towner who told Nathalie Alberts, “Okay, have a book fair, then, if you feel like it.” (I don’t know if those were his EXACT words. I wasn’t there.)

In fact, it was Dr. Towner, already dying, headed for retirement, who dropped a strong hint that there might be a SECOND book fair. We had been given a World War II era Boy Scout bugle too late to sell it in 1985, and I asked Nathalie if there were a safe place to put it. I’d done my time in marching band, and I had seen bugles and trumpets which had been dropped (not a pretty sight.) So, just in case we were going to sell things again someday, I thought it ought to sit somewhere secure.

Nathalie asked Dr. Towner about this, and a shelf in the vault had one of his business cards taped to it with the note “Save for Book Fair. LWT.”

Now, Bill Towner was a man who attracted legend, and in the years since his retirement, the stories have multiplied: how this book made it into the collection, how that one made it out. They are contradictory, depending on the speaker: he was the best of presidents, he was the worst of presidents. All they seem to agree on is that he could hold his own with the tough, two-fisted drinkers from whom he was trying to raise funds, and that he did raise funds and made a difference with them.

And he wrote “Save for Book Fair”. Little did he know.

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