Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Writing to Jacqueline Kennedy

In 1961, a few months after her husband was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy, the new First Lady, supposedly received the book below, along with a letter from the author and annotations or marks in the book and on the jacket for emphasis and direction to selected passages.

In May of 1961, British journalist and author, George Bilainkin, sent an inscribed copy of his 1947 book, Second Diary of a Diplomatic Correspondent to the new president's wife in advance of her and the President's trip abroad, which included a stop in London.

He also included a typed, signed letter on his letterhead ("To Her Excellency, Mrs. John Kennedy") and indicated a few pages of interest to the First Lady and perhaps the new President, whom he had known and met with on several occasions in 1945 at the close of World War II.

So he knew Jack, as he referred to him, but he sent the book to his wife with marked passages about his dealings with her husband. His reason? 
"I send it because the book contains references to the talks your husband and I had in London in 1945. I hope some of the flash-backs may prove of instructive interest."
Bilainkin expressed his hopes to meet with both, or at least the First Lady, and revisit a few sites pertinent to his meetings, as a journalist, with a young Jack Kennedy in 1945. He also knew the President’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., when he was the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Indeed, in his written inscription in the book, he refers to himself as "an all-weather friend of the Kennedy clan."

But then the real reason for the inscribed book and letter appears to surface, as Bilainkin makes known his desire to take Mrs. Kennedy (he doesn't mention Jack) to lunch and, as if that weren't enough, further requests she bring photos of herself, her husband, and his parents! 

I think one could make the case that Bilainkin was a bit enamored of the First Lady, as was most of the world at that time, and he was using his prior acquaintance with the President to wrangle a lunch date with her. It very well could have been purely for professional reasons, as was a correspondent who wrote about high profile people, and a sit-down with Jackie Kennedy would have been quite a coup for him. 

The Kennedys, on their first trip overseas, while in the White House, went to Paris, Vienna, and London. They were in London June 4-5, 1961 and it seems all but impossible that they had the time or desire to meet with a journalist whom the President had crossed paths with in 1945. Certainly, it was never a consideration. But I wonder if Bilainkin even received a reply to his request?

For the First Lady of the United States of America, from an old admirer and all-weather friend of the Kennedy clan.
George Bilainkin  May 1961
It is unknown, though, if Jacqueline Kennedy actually received this book, looked through it, and showed the author’s marked passages to the President (pages noted under the inscription above and in the Index). It may have been intercepted by whatever filters were in place at the time for the abundance of gifts the Kennedys likely received at the White House.

But it is intriguing to ponder that this book could have been in the possession of one or both for a time. They left no ownership marks nor annotation behind to confirm that. The book eventually found its way into a Washington, D.C. estate and later into the second-hand market with letter intact.

On its own merit, this book is an interesting history from a diplomatic correspondent’s point-of-view at the end of World War II. His intimate portraits of heads of state he met, such as Tito, de Gaulle, Churchill, and diplomats such as the aforementioned Kennedy, fill the pages of this follow-up to his 1940 published diary.

But it's the inscription and letter to First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, and the speculation that she or President Kennedy kept this on the White House bookshelves for awhile, that makes this particular copy even more interesting.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Eudora Welty: A stepping stone to greater things

When Selected Stories of Eudora Welty was introduced into Random House's Modern Library series in the 1950s, one man saw in that collection the potential to effect a change in another's life for "greater things." He purchased a copy and inscribed it to a a friend or relative or lover, known only to us as SAR (or is that SAK?), and forgotten to history. Either way, the sentiment is the same for an aspiring writer or scholar.

"With the hope that this will be a stepping stone to greater things."

Monday, June 17, 2013

Thoreau's annotated copy of Walden

I don't know how long this link will be available, but the video is worth a look while it's around on the Internet: http://ow.ly/m6SdX

Professor Gould of Middlebury College in Vermont talks about Thoreau's copy of his book, Walden, which she retrieves from the college's archives and shares with viewers in this interview. Her comments on Thoreau's marginalia underscore the scholarship inherent in such an historically important copy of this book.

But there's also a certain thrill-factor, which Professor Gould captures perfectly in her closing words:
"It's just glorious to be able to hold it in your hands because Thoreau held it in his hands, he made the notes, and it's as close to history as you can possibly get."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Book Shrine to a Baseball Hero

Readers interacting with their books is one thing--a margin note, perhaps some underlining. Readers turning their books into shrines is another thing entirely. And that is how I would characterize what happened with a copy of Lou Gehrig: The Iron Horse of Baseball, by Richard G. Hubler (Houghton Mifflin, 1941).

The young man who owned this book in the early 1940s held his baseball hero, Lou Gehrig, in the highest regard. He turned Hubler's book into a scrapbook memorial of newspaper clippings, baseball card cut-outs, and handwritten commentary. Hubler's text takes a backseat as a biographical narrative that complements the visual elements of this kind of folk book art.

After looking through every page of this book, I would surmise that Lou Gehrig transcended the sport of baseball in hero status for that young man and became a great role model as a human being.

Gehrig died 15 years before I was even born, but he still became my baseball hero when I was a boy. The first book I checked out and read at the school library was a title in the Childhood of Famous Americans Series: Lou Gehrig: Boy of the Sandlots, by Guernsey Van Riper (Bobbs-Merrill, 1949).

Had I been about age 10 when the Hubler book came out after Gehrig's untimely death at age 37, I could see me doing something like what the young man did with this book back in the 1940s. My kindred spirit from another time. Whether destiny or serendipity, or both, I had to buy this book when I found it. I'll let the pictures below tell the story with a bit of annotation.

The cut-outs of Gehrig's head and signature, which decorate many pages of this book, including all chapter heads, were taken from old 1934 Goudey baseball cards (I shudder to think about certain valuable cards being destroyed!). See this 2009 article from Sports Collectors Daily for more information.

Here, the book owner mixed real life and Hollywood together with images of Lou Gehrig and actress Teresa Wright, who played his wife Eleanor (Twitchell) in the movie Pride of the Yankees. He was also careful to document his arrangement.

A memorial poem attributed to Tim Cohane is copied on the blank page facing the Foreword's first page, while the Foreword receives its own decoration in the form of a typewritten list titled, Characteristics of Lou Gehrig.

The Foreword ends with a collection of baseball greats important to Gehrig (Bill Dickey, Joe McCarthy, Miller Huggins) as well as an image that is supposed to be the first base line at old Yankee Stadium. However, it looks like the third base line.

A bit of Gehrig philosophy follows--for life and hitting. Of course, his philosophy for life includes a baseball metaphor.

The most famous and memorable speech in baseball, perhaps even all of sports... "I may have been given a bad break but I've got an awful lot to live for. With all this, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

The final pages of the book are adorned with news clippings of Gehrig's death and memorial tributes. 

After the last chapter ends, the following page has a portion of the book's dust jacket (the front flap) affixed to it. Underlined is a passage that offers more evidence as to Gehrig's role-model status for the young fan: "...his clean life and high idealism."

I'll never know the name of the young man who owned this book (no ownership indication anywhere in the book) or what became of him in his life, but I'm grateful he took the time to create this memorial to Lou Gehrig and I bet he'd be pleased and proud to see that it lives on in another appreciative fan's collection and in a medium (Internet) he could never have envisioned some 70 years ago. I can only hope for the same once my tenure as custodian is done.


 As a bit of a postscript to all this... I got to enjoy a Yankees game at the old stadium several years ago before it closed. Appropriately enough, I sat on the first base side watching the "Ghost of Gehrig" at first base. Actually, the spirit of Gehrig was in full display as the Bronx Bombers knocked eight out of the park that night to tie a record. I enjoyed it all in a No. 4 Gehrig shirt.
No apologies to my Red Sox relatives, who wouldn't be caught dead in a Yankees shirt! 
I'm still a fan of the Bosox.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mister Roberts... and Dave--a curious inscription

Thomas Heggens' Mister Roberts was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1946. The story was set on a US Navy cargo ship toward the end of World War II, based on the author's experiences during the war in the South Pacific.

The title character, Mister Roberts, was a junior officer who had the respect of his men and disdain for the captain, who had little regard for the crew. Roberts fought the captain for a transfer to the front lines to see some action before the war ended, eventually got his wish, and was killed in action.

I have a copy of the novel with the following curious gift inscription:
Here in detail are episodes in the lives of the men with whom you served on that Sunday afternoon of 8th April 1951.

And that has left me wanting for more detail. Who was Dave and what happened on April 8, 1951? Did Dave just serve one day with "these men?" On a ship? And at war? Or was this a reference to particular event during the course of a longer tour of duty by Dave?

I can find nothing of significance occurring on April 8, 1951 to relate to the characters and setting of Mister Roberts. The US military was fighting a war in Korea and General Douglas MacArthur was about to lose his command. But the specific date of April 8, 1951 is a riddle.

I'm guessing a good number of veterans could relate to the characters and situations in this book, Dave and the author of the inscription being just two examples of that sentiment. I'm assuming the inscription's author could relate on some level to have assumed that Dave would also. And the inscription became a device for introducing the book and evidently some wartime memories for its recipient.

The inscription itself is not dated, so there's no way of knowing when this used copy of the book was presented to Dave. If it were 1955 or later, no doubt Dave had heard of Mister Roberts the movie, if not the book. After being adapted as a play in 1948 Mister Roberts found new life in yet another medium as a 1955 film starring Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell, and Jack Lemmon. The film was nominated for Best Picture and Lemmon won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Prayers in Medieval Marginalia

I don't know that Eamon Duffy prayed he would find margin notes in the medieval books of hours, or prayer books, that he researched for his book, Marking the Hours: English People & Their Prayers 1240-1570 (Yale University Press, 2006), but medieval marginalia is what he hoped to find and did.

In America: The National Catholic Weekly, Thomas J. Shelley offers an informative review of Duffy's book. Summarizing the contents, he writes, with a quote from Duffy:
This book is an attempt, says Duffy with his customary wit, “to trace a history written quite literally in the margins.” 
Shelley expounds further:
These annotations provide a rare insight into the personal religious convictions of those who used the books daily to sustain their spiritual life. The fact that many of these laypeople were women adds an extra dimension of interest and originality to Duffy’s research. The book of hours was popular with such dissimilar characters as the unscrupulous King Richard III, hard-faced London grocers, pious country gentry, devout widows, St. Thomas More and even Thomas Cromwell, the ruthless royal minster who engineered More’s downfall and execution.
Prayers comprise the majority of the marginalia Duffy encountered in his research. Collectively, they offer valuable insight to the mindsets of people, primarily women, during medieval England. In turn, Duffy' book offers a valuable addition to the emerging field of scholarly research of marginalia.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Martial arts and marginalia--Bruce Lee's library

Stumbled upon this interesting library on YouTube--Bruce Lee's personal book collection, many of which appear to be annotated (so says daughter, Shannon Lee). I found it interesting that he would use different colors of ink to emphasize different points.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A dad's 9/11 gift

A copy of Seabiscuit (published 2001), by Laura Hillenbrand. A simple gift inscription from a father to his daughter on September 11, 2001:  

Dear Bethany, I hope you enjoy this (I did). Love, Dad.

Next to the inscription, the father created a tiny memorial of sorts to mark the day for his daughter: a small American flag affixed to the page by a 34-cent US postage stamp that depicts the Statue of Liberty. A caption underneath states simply "9-11-01."

Various scenarios come to mind about why this book was presented on 9-11-01 and why it wound up in a resale shop where I found it and thought it worth saving. Scenarios come forth for each, but I'll just let the moment of the gift resonate here--the father's gift to his daughter, a book and a simple, poignant observance of the tragedy that befell a nation ten years ago today.

That day will never be forgotten in the lifetimes of those old enough to have had it indelibly imprinted into their memories. Many memorials and observances, in various forms, were erected that day. Even in a gift book, whose story of inspiration, hope, and renewal may have reflected the needs of the gift's recipient as well as those of the gift giver and an entire nation.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Marginalia in poetry

The subject of marginalia is not just for scholarly studies, filmmakers, or whimsical blog posts (present company included most of the time). Marginalia has found its way into poetry. None other than Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003, included a poem titled,  Marginalia, in his poetry collections, Picnic Lightning (Pitt Poetry Series, University of Pittsburgh Press,1998) and Sailing Alone Around the Room (Random House, 2001). Here it is:

Marginalia, by Billy Collins

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Writing in Books - The Film

From reeselife (a section of reesenews), a source of news about Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina, here is an interesting film that explores the practice of marginalia or writing in books and its personal and cultural significance: