Volume of Memories

     I own books I will never read.  Part of this is just depressing statistical certainty.  I have plans to get around to some, but as I am always being told I am not allowed to live forever, the moment will never.  There are others which I keep around as reference volumes: you don’t read those: you read bits of them.

     But there are books I give storage space to though I have no intention of ever opening the covers.  These have certain associations with the world that was, and I value them for the memories the sight recalls.  This is against the modern rules, of course.  More than one tidy-minded individual has told me that if I have to look at a physical object to call up a memory, then the memory is not important.  I do not remember the names of these people.  I do not keep their books around.

     Today’s example is a hardbound volume of magazines from the late nineteenth century.  I have nothing at all against Scribner’s Magazine: like any other bound periodicals, it contains any number of rabbit holes down which I might cheerfully wander: travel articles, essays on history (some of which was current events in 1891), and short stories which millions of people read at the time (and never since.)  But the pages are discolored and slightly odorous, so the temptation to peruse them is slight.

     The person who gave me this book was a warm, spontaneous, impulsive soul who loved black and white movies, British fiction, and Dixieland.  She had an intuitive understanding of what was good and true and beautiful, but sabotaged her career and life by ignoring this.  Every time she knew she was being really clever, she was taking aim to shoot herself in the foot.  Over the years, she brought me books she knew would make her fortune: things she found around the house or bought at unbelievable bargains from people who didn’t know what they had.  On this occasion, she handed me a plastic bag containing a volume of Scribner’s she had found at home.  I sighed to myself, thinking how I could break it to her that this was not a million-dollar book, and reached into the bag.

     “Don’t do that,” she said.  “You don’t want to breathe in the mold!”

     “Um,” I countered.  “And you think this is worth money because…..”

     “Look at the bookplate!” she told me.

     I thought about explaining I couldn’t do that without opening the bag, but it was a busy Saturday and I didn’t want to spend a lot of extra time on this.  I opened the musty volume to find it had once belonged to none other than someone I’d never heard of.  But she was eager to explain.  The book had belonged to the father of one of her own father’s old tennis partners.

     See, her childhood weas spent in one of those worlds where you can’t walk six blocks without running into a celebrity.  Her mother played bridge with the mother of a legendary screenwriter, and she herself went to summer camp with a dreamy boy who paid her no notice and grew up to be an internationally-known newspaper columnist.  And her father played tennis with one of the most notorious murderers of the twentieth century.

     “Someone will pay a bundle for that,” she confided.  “They just did another documentary on him.”

     She never had a plan which would make her less than a million dollars, and I could not promise her that.  But she had at least given me some reason a person MIGHT actually pay money for a moldy volume that was otherwise not in the least bit rare or collectible.  I took the plastic bag and its contents home with me.

      Once upon a time, I would cheerfully have offered this for sale, just telling her story, but I thought I would just hunt up the gentleman on the bookplate.  That’s where things went wrong.  My impression of Richard Loeb (murderer of Bobby Franks and the brains of Leopold and Loeb)  was that he was the sort of chap who would not go out of his way to accommodate an inferior.  And, indeed, he disobligingly refused to have any relatives with the name on the bookplate, much less a father of that name.

     I can’t for the life of me remember actually telling my go-getter buddy any of this.  At the time, she was busy with plans for a syndicated radio show about jazz which would net her five or six million a year, sending out compact discs of sample shows, which she had safeguarded with written and technological warnings not to release or steal the material on the discs.  She knew how the world worked, and was cunning enough to head off miscreants by this means.

     This book does not bring back things like dates or times.  So I do not know if she handed it to me before or after she discovered that one of the technical tricks she used resulted in dozens of station managers and radio executives sample CDs which were perfectly blank.

     (P.S. She made as much on her radio show as on her volume of Scribner’s.)

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