Friday, March 1, 2013

A bit of Christmas every day




Unpacking and cataloging books at the Josephy Library is a little bit like Christmas every day. I dig through boxes, looking for the most essential things to catalog (there are many boxes left to catalog, so someone has to prioritize!), schlep them to volunteer librarian Shannon Maslach at the bank, and she brings them back with neat little cards in them, or in nice folders that go in the new oak map case/file cabinet built for us by local cabinet maker Brian Oliver. 

James Michener WW II
This week it was a faded, torn covered copy of James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific. Out of old library and bookstore days, I turned immediately to the copyright page, and sure enough it’s "New York. Macmillan, First Printing, 1947." The book is in booksellers’ “fair” condition, I would say, but the on-line story is that a dust jacket in any shape at all is rare.

So the little treasure, with Alvin’s familiar signature on the first end-page, is probably worth hundreds of dollars. But my mind runs to the story from A Walk Toward Oregon about his working on a novel as WW II ends, then abandoning it and writing The Long and the Short and the Tall, the non-fiction book about his experiences in the Pacific. There is an inkling of why the fiction book was left half-done in Walk Toward Oregon—personal life had been disrupted by the War and his homecoming, but still, I never really talked with Alvin about it, or about Michener and Michener’s take on the War and the Pacific. More questions not asked.

Which reminds me that Alvin and Betty’s daughter Kathy (Katch) Josephy brought in a CD copy of Alvin’s recording of the landing on Guam. This was the landing that he recorded on a condom covered mike, tethered to his half-track by a 40 foot wire. Over 20 of the 32 men that waded ashore were hit before they got there. The recording played across the nation, and is acknowledged today as the only recording of a ship to shore landing by a participant. Alvin played parts of it for us at Fishtrap one time, and it was even then, over 50 years after the event, a deeply emotional experience for him. “Some of us felt guilty about coming home alive,” he said. 

Shannon cataloged it—and made a loaner copy. The text is also reproduced in The Long and the Short and the Tall.

There were other treasures as well this week, including two contemporary accounts of the Nez Perce War by correspondents sympathetic to the Indians. One of them, a signature from Galaxy Magazine, 1877, by one “F.L.M.,” has a note from P.D. on the inside of the front cover. The P.D. is, I’m sure, the antiquarian book dealer and expert on Western Americana, Peter Decker, who will get his own blog post sometime soon. People like Decker still exist—William Reese, who got his start with Decker’s help, is apparently now the dean of dealers in Western historical material. But in the days before Google, these antiquarians found the missing links—the old books, manuscripts, magazines, and letters—that historians like Alvin relied on in telling the stories.

There is something importantly tactile about end-covers with initials and signatures on them, about the books and important papers and journals and old newspapers, letters, and magazines we own, something that Google can’t quite capture.

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