Monday, February 21, 2011

A Flying Tiger's inscription mystery

Here is a 1991 reprint of the 1949 Flying Tiger history, Way of a Fighter: The Memoirs of Claire Lee Chennault, by Claire Lee Chennault, Major General, U.S. Army (Ret.); James Thorvardson & Sons, Tucson.

Chennault was commander of the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force in 1941-42, otherwise known as The Flying Tigers. Hired by the Chinese government to defend China against the Japanese, their training actually began before America's entry into the war, and just days after the the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the Flying Tigers were flying combat missions.

I found this book at a library sale and was thrilled at what I discovered inside. The blank page preceding the title page (verso of the frontispiece) has a wonderful inscription from famed World War II ace fighter pilot for the Flying Tigers, "Tex" Hill, who flew for Chennault:
To my dear friend and fellow Fighter Pilot, a man I admire most. Thank you for the sacrifice you made for our country. All the best. "Tex" Hill

My first thought, after getting over the excitement of finding this inscription, was whose book was this? As Chennault died in 1958, he's quickly ruled out, but would have been the top contender otherwise. So who, or which fellow fighter pilot, did "Tex" Hill admire most? Perhaps some biographies of Hill would shed some light on the provenance of the Chennault book.

A few years ago on Archaeolibris, I blogged about another Flying Tigers fighter pilot named Joe Rosbert, who died in 2007 in the Houston area, where I found his signed autobiography and later Chennault's book. So I entertained the idea that the Chennault book signed by Hill could have belonged to Rosbert, but I can't find anything to connect the two in such a way that would lead to Tex Hill's inscription.

However, Tex Hill's fighter pilot experience was not limited to the Flying Tigers, so the fighter pilot in his inscription is not necessarily a Flying Tiger and maybe not even a fighter pilot he served with.

At any rate, I now have a companion book to for the Rosbert book and what looks like the beginnings of a Flying Tigers collection.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Unfinished inscription to a linksman

I don't remember ever having seen an inscription in a book that stopped mid-sentence.

In Gene Sarazen's Better Golf After Fifty (Harper & Row, 1967), I wondered if a better memory after fifty were needed, when I came across this incomplete inscription:
Dear Lindy, I've wanted to repay your many wonderful favors you
That's it. Favors you... What? We're left hanging like a putt on the lip of the cup.

It's easy to assume that Lindy didn't get the book and he didn't get repaid with this book for all his favors, whatever they were. Afterall, why give a book to someone with an incomplete gift inscription?

So what happened? Several possible scenarios come to mind.
  • The writer had a senior moment or ADD and set the book down somewhere, never to return to it.

  • The writer liked the book and kept it for himself after it occurred to him mid-sentence that he really wanted it. No need to complete the inscription at that point.

  • The writer had second thoughts about whether a cheap book was really the appropriate way to express gratitude for the many wonderful favors.

  • The writer developed a serious case of writer's block and never recovered. Too embarrassed at this point, he put the book away somewhere and years later after a house cleaning or estate sale, the book wound up in a resale shop where some blogger picked it up and wondered about the inscription started forty-something years ago.

  • The writer dropped dead after the word "you."

Whatever the reason, it is unusual, perhaps even unique in the annals of documented book inscriptions. Make that annal, singular. At present, I know of only one creative soul out there who is actually doing this: The Book Inscriptions Project

Friday, February 4, 2011

Poor Leah: A postcard for the psych chapter

What we have here is an example of written interaction with a book, not from the reader's notation, but from her mother's writing via a postcard strategically placed, one could argue, in the book. And there does appear to be a meaningful relationship between this particular book and the written message on the postcard.

A whimsically imaginative tale ensues...

A mother forgot her daughter Leah's birthday and belatedly sent her this postcard with a flimsy excuse and a lame greeting that included her activities with other family members (perhaps adding insult to injury). Poor Leah.

At least four years later, Leah was reading the book Doctors and Specialists, by Morris Fishbein, M.D. (Bobbs-Merrill, 1930). She got to the chapter, The Neurologist and Psychiatrist , and thought of her mother's postcard. Remember, the postcard was written in 1926 and the book it was found in was published in 1930. Did Leah have the postcard handy to use as a bookmark? If so, had she obsessed over it so much as to keep it within reach all that time? Or was there something even worse at play here? Did Leah's mother write the belated birthday acknowledgment (it was hardly a greeting) in 1926 and not give it to her until 1930 (it was not mailed), at the time Leah was reading Dr. Fishbein's book? If so, poor Leah all the more!

Whatever the reason, in a fine Freudian twist, a mother's late birthday remembrance marks her daughter's book some four years later at a chapter that addresses the mental health specialists.

This is how I found it (I swear!) no telling how many years or decades later. Perhaps a depressed young woman used her mother's written admission of procrastination to mark her place in a book. Or maybe she marked this particular chapter to return to for some kind of therapy necessitated by her mother's neglect.
Dear Leah, Thought I could get time to write you a letter for your birthday but I did not get time but this will let you know I thought of you and you will know we are both well & had a dinner at six o'clock for Ed & Family, Robert & Family on my Golden Wedding day they gave me a camio pin it is very pretty Love to all Mother. Will write a letter soon
Mother seems to be absorbed with herself... her party, her gift... Poor neglected Leah. And that postscript about writing a letter soon was placed at the top of the postcard upside down. Unconscious motivation (anyone?) for that choice of placement? Dr. Freud might have enjoyed this one.

I wonder (with my Freud cap on) if Leah bookmarked that chapter specifically for insight of some kind or perhaps some bookish psychotherapy? If so, she might have been disappointed, as the chapter, indeed the entire book, pokes fun at the medical and mental health specialties. To wit:
Oh for the day when there were but two types of mentality, the wise man and the nut! To-day there are as many forms of mental disturbances as there are types of streptococci. They have taken the human mind and split it into layers with the conscious at the top, then the subconscious and finally the unconscious... It was a beautiful symbolism that the high priest should have been named Freud, a name which requires only the exchange of a single letter to make it sound exceedingly doubtful.
Maybe Leah did find some relief in this chapter. Afterall, laughter, it is said, is the best medicine.