When Better Books Are Made

From time to time, people donate books that they have enhanced. I enhanxced books myself, in my time: I figured someone had drawn pictures inside the book, but had left those blank pages in the front and back for me to illustrate. I know I was still doing this occasionally when I was eleven, but I have not so far donated these to anybody. (After I have won my Nobel for Blogging, the Smithsonian will want ‘em anyhow.)

Lots of people have used flyleaves for enhancement, sometimes full-page enhancement. This year we have a book about surrealist Hans Erni, which Hans inscribed, and added a full-page drawing. Many years ago, we had a copy of a book Fritz Leiber inscribed, adding a portrait of the recipient and then lamenting because his sketch made her look like George Arliss. (Run to an encyclopedia, or your computer, and look up George Arliss and you will see why he apologized.)

But the less famous have done great work too. In this mass of paper and books I call an apartment I have photocopies of all kinds of pictures schoolchildren drew in their textbooks (sometimes quick and rude, sometimes labored over, erased, and redone). When it’s a really good picture, I will scan it into my computer, as I did with a book someone gave someone else for Christmas in 1888, and proved that Chicago weather was pretty much then as it is now, showing Santa Claus under an umbrella as rain pours out of the sky. The inscription that went with this, I believe, was “Merry Christmas anyway.”

Other people make dustjackets to replace missing ones, or to beautify books that never had jackets. A collection of science fiction came in once where every paperback had been enhanced with a jacket made from flowery wallpaper samples, and a scallop-edged paper spine label. Another donor always, always, brought in books which lacked covers, but which she had repaired by making new covers from cardboard. (I kept planning to ask whether she had ripped off the original covers in the first place, but what with one thing and another I never got around to it.)

So far, though, the prize goes to the woman who painted the covers of her books, covering dull brown or green cloth with a depiction of a vase of flowers or some such. These paintings wound up being rather dark (you can’t do a WHOLE lot when your background is drab brown to begin with) so she glued glitter to strategic places. The books she decorated were rather drab themselves, and would have been worth only a dollar or so without her additions. As it was, they were snapped up by the greater eBay community for about THREE dollars each.

Just think, if my parents had allowed me to continue my book enhancement experiments with White-Out and transparent tape, I might be in the Smithsonian already. (No, not the books. Just me.)

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