Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dorothy Parker inscription

Today is writer Dorothy Parker's birthday. She was born in 1893 and died in 1967. One of my best finds on the bookscouting trail was a beat-up copy of After Such Pleasures, a 1933 collection of short stories. The torn and soiled book, which I later found a jacket for, belied the beauty inside--an inscription of gratitude from Dorothy Parker to someone at Presbyterian Hospital (New York?) for being "so darned nice."

I wrote on the Archaeolibris blog about how I found the book. Later, when I found the jacket, I added this post to the blog. Below is a little information repeated from those posts.

Signed copies of Parker's books are scarce, even more so for this title. For the cheap price of a junk book, this bargain table copy became my copy and I brought it home to research the mystery surrounding the inscription.

Parker inscribed the book:
"To Helen DeWitt-- Who was so darn nice to me-- Gratefully, Dorothy Parker Presbyterian Hospital January 16- (I think)"
I wish she had added the year to the date. It could be a contemporary inscription with regard to the book's second printing in 1933. Or it could be from Parker's last years when she was frequently in and out of hospitals--the 1960s. The ink would indicate a fountain pen, which would have been more consistent with the 1930s, though.

What of Helen DeWitt? She took good care of Parker at Presbyterian Hospital (New York, I assume), so likely she was a nurse or maybe just someone who crossed paths with Parker in a meaningful way that day. I also wonder if DeWitt already had the book and asked Parker to sign it, or did Parker send it to her as a thank you? And why that book?

Clues for nailing down the background on this inscription are thin, to say the least. I have a copy of her biography, You Might As Well Live, by John Keats (Simon & Schuster, 1970) and have researched it for clues. All I could find out about hospital stays is what I reported above--that she was a frequent patient in her final years in the 1960s. She lived from 1893-1967. A sardonic sense of humor and razor-sharp wit most often characterize her writing and personality, but happiness eluded her through several marriages, alcoholism, and suicide attempts. Her poem from Enough Rope (1926) is perhaps her best remembered:
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
This poem was recited by Angelina Jolie in a scene from the film Girl Interrupted

That's a sad note to end this on after a birthday prompted the post, so I'll add Happy Birthday, Dorothy! (and wonder how many happy ones she really had).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Joan Marie hates Bernadette

Or so it would seem after viewing the hideous caricature of Bernadette by the angry young artist, Joan Marie.

Found in a 1908 school music book, Songs Every One Should Know, edited by Clifton Johnson, the rendering of Bernadette's likeness is featured in the back of the book. Joan Marie identifies herself in the front of the book by name and in no uncertain terms states that she owns the book ("Joan Marie owns it.").

I remember this kind of stuff when I was a kid and I'm sure schoolkids today are still writing in their books and expressing themselves in various artistic ways. How will they do that when e-books supposedly replace print one day? If that ever comes to pass, I'm sure inventive young minds will find a way.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Belle Sherman Kendall

Oftentimes, old secondhand books come with old signatures from their long-departed previous owners. Most of the people who signed or wrote in these books fade from any conscious thought or knowledge of their existence except by those descendants who keep their memories alive. And then there are those individuals such as Belle Sherman Kendall, who obviously owned this History of Texas book and signed it.

Had this 1892 book by John Henry Brown been of sound body (i.e., having a spine), I would have had something of collectible value. It's content is still valuable in a reading copy only, but I found added value in the signature once I figured out who this person wasn't.

I initially researched the name Belle Thurman Kendall and got nothing. After omitting the middle name, I found Belle Sherman Kendall, which caused me to re-examine the signature. Sure enough, it was Sherman, not Thurman.

With the correct name, I discovered a wealth of Texas history back to the Battle of San Jacinto and the Republic of Texas days.

According to Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Patriot Ancestor Album, Volume 1 (Turner Publishing Company, 1995), Belle's father was Sidney Sherman, a businessman from Kentucky, who organized a company of 55 soldiers to join Sam Houston in the fight for Texas independence from Mexico in 1836. He also brought the only Texas flag to fly at San Jacinto. Sherman settled in Harrisburg (part of Houston now). Actually, he bought the town, which had been burned by Mexican General Santa Anna's troops only the day before the Battle of San Jacinto. Sherman rebuilt the town and set up his business (railroad office, lumber mill, grist mill). More than a decade after the war, Belle was born in 1847.

Belle grew up in Houston and married William E. Kendall, Sr. As Belle Sherman Kendall, she became President of the Ladies Reading Club of Houston, which became the Women's Club of Houston. Later she was credited as the the founder of the Houston Public Library System after she secured funding from Andrew Carnegie to build Houston's first library (see related library history here). She was also a founding member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Today, the Kendall Neighborhood Library and Community Center in Houston is named for her.

The Houstonist reported last year on the construction of the Kendall Library, noting its drive-thru service with the opening line: "Houston is getting its first library for lazy people." I wonder how many of the new library's patrons, lazy or not, have any inkling of the history of the name on the building and its connection with Houston's first library?

Monday, August 9, 2010

To an unknown booklover from Helene Hanff

In my collection of books about books, one stands out for its author inscription. I found this gem on a bookscouting trip a few years ago and can only surmise the demise of a kindred spirit for this book to have found its way into a resale shop.

The book is The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, by Helene Hanff, published by J.B. Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1973. It's not really a book about books, per se, but it is the sequel, or follow-up, to the cult-status favorite of bibliophiles everywhere, 84 Charing Cross Road, the story of a twenty-year correspondence between New York writer and English literature lover Helene Hanff and Frank Doel of Marks & Co., the antiquarian book shop whose address was 84 Charing Cross Road.

The book and the movie of the same name are personal favorites of mine. So, you see, the book has to be included in the books about books section of my library and it resides right next to 84 on the shelf.

My copy of Duchess is a first edition, but what makes the book special is Helene Hanff's inscription on the front free endpaper:
To an unknown booklover,
Helene Hanff
I had read an unsigned copy before I found the signed copy, and near the end of the book she recounts her last day in London and a stop by her publisher's, Andre Deutsch, to sign twenty books for a group of Australian booksellers arriving the next day. She liked to personalize her books to fans with long or witty inscriptions, and not knowing who would get these books, she came up with the "unknown booklover" inscription.

Obviously, she repeated the practice stateside because my inscribed copy comes from her American publisher, Lippincott, in Philadelphia. Nonetheless, it has to be a fairly rare inscription I would think.

When I found the book and saw her handwriting, I thought to myself, "I am now one of your unknown booklovers!" What are the chances of finding that book with that particular inscription? I should have gone out and bought lottery tickets that day while Lady Luck was smiling down on me.

I also have an inscribed copy of the British edition published by Andre Deutsch, 1974. This one I got the more conventional way by buying it from another dealer. It has an amusing and somewhat mysterious inscription from Ms. Hanff, which I will write about another time. I'm still trying to find out if the names mentioned in the inscription tie into one of her anecdotes in the book.

In the [hopefully] very distant future, my demise will be at hand and I'd like to think that this book will find its way into the hands of another unknown booklover and the torch will pass. But until then, I'm the unknown booklover. Or at least one of a very small and very lucky group.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Writing in Mangapapa

In an old copy of The New Beacon Reader, Book Six, Dominion Edition published by Ginn and Company Ltd in London (no date, assumed 1920s-30s), a young Allen Weymouth once marked the book as his and also identified his school and town. His dutiful rite of ownership left a trail for a curious researcher many decades into the future (I wish young Allen would have added a date). What caught my eye and piqued my interest, though, was the unusual name of the school: Mangapapa

Mangapapa is indeed a school in the town of Gisborne, which I was not familiar with and soon learned that it is located in New Zealand, far away across a vast ocean from where I found the book in Texas. How this book traveled such a great distance is an exercise in imagination and fantasy.

More than just a school name, Mangapapa is actually the name of a Gisborne suburb north of the city.

A young boy's writing in his school book many years ago has introduced me to a new place in the world. The young students at Mangapapa today are involved in another kind of writing, for which they appear to have quite a passion. The students, from Year One on up, are learning about writing at various levels, as are their teachers, and creating stories out of a developing passion for the written word. Read all about their "exciting learning journey in written language," Writing Gems, on the Mangapapa site.

A quote from that site states:
"In 2008 we are thrilled to be able to say that all students at Mangapapa have a passion for writing and are showing flair and creativity in the stories they write."
That was two years ago. I certainly hope that holds true today in 2010. How many schools can boast that all their students have a passion for writing?