by Robert Lopresti
"Are you reading a stolen book?"
That startling question came from my wife a few weeks ago. The answer was no, but I understood why she was wondering.
was reading a paperback with the cover torn off and I am sure many of
you have seen the note that appears in many paperbacks that reads like
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be
aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as
"unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neither the author nor the
publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."
wife is an accountant for a bookstore, so you can see how she would be
particularly sensitve to this issue. In this case, however, I was
able to reassure her that the book had a cover when I bought it.
In fact, I had torn the front of it off myself for one very
was ugly as all hell. The book was THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR by Josephine
Tey and the cover is supposed to show a young woman who has been badly
beaten, but to me it looks like a severed head. (You can judge for
will put it at the bottom of this page. If you DON'T want to see
it, jump past to the comments.)
So, that's why I was reading a
book with no cover: not theft, but censorshiip. (Hey, if I can't
censor my own copy of a book, who can?)
But that got me thinking
about a very strange habit of my father. When Dad read a paperback he
didn't bother with a bookmark. When he finished a page he simply tore
it off. This used to drive me nuts, largely because I couldn't read
the book , or even tell what the title was.
I have plenty of
time to think about such things today because I am stuck at home - need
I mention that the weather is beautiful? - waiting for delivery men.
After thirty-some years our platform bed is being demoted, or if you
prefer, retired, to the guest room, and a couple of strong fellas will
be showing up soon with a new one. So I write this with one eye on the
Where was I? Oh yes, I just finished another
paperback and I suspect my father would approve of the way I shredded
it. But this was not done on purpose. It was one of those
oh-so-clever covers with a hole cut in it - in fact here it is. The
triangle on the left is a cut-out giving you a peek at the inside
cover. And, as I usually find to be the case, causing the book to
shred as I read it. I keep wanting to refer to the map at the
beginning, but it has already fallen out.
It can be hard to
keep track of books intellectually, as well as physically. Walt
Fraser, a professor I had in library school, said that a librarian was
a person who could put something away and find it again. Not always
For example, many years ago I got a paper ledger and
started keeping track of every book I read, and even rated them. Then
one day, back in 2005, the ledger just disappeared. I knew I never
took it out of the house, so where did it go? I suppose I should be
glad they didn't ask for my librarian badge back. (Okay, we don't get
badges, but wouldn't it be cool if we did?)
Still no moving men. Where was I? Oh yes. Keeping track of books.
Rex Stout's novels Nero Wolfe was a voracious reader. When he started
a book he marked his page with a bookmark of actual gold, a gift from a
client. If he decided he didn't like the book he would switch to a
piece of paper. If the book got worse he would start dog-earring the
pages. Only the books that kept the gold bookmark all the way through
found a place on his shelves.
The moving men have been and gone, by the way. The new bed looks lovely. And guess what they found under the old platform bed?
Yup. The ledger. How it got there I will never know.
Do I have to start again reading all the books I haven't written down since 2005?
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. -Kohelet, alias Ecclesiastes.
And here is that awful cover...