|Baby Hummingbird © Craig Ede|
After living elsewhere for almost two decades, in 1990 I moved back to Iowa, where I had been born and raised. Soon after, as I browsed in a second-hand bookstore, I was surprised and delighted to find a paperback volume of essays by American satirist H.L. Mencken. Even as a high school student, I had read nearly all his writings, and had purchased at the time a series of Vintage paperbacks, the covers of which had been designed by graphic designer Paul Rand. It was one of the books from that series that I suddenly found on the shelf in that store. I felt a surge of nostalgia as I reached for the book; it was not only a touchstone, it was the exact same edition as well. Imagine my greater astonishment when, seconds later, as I turned to the flyleaf—I found my own signature.
I recalled this recently while reading the memoirs of British writer Richard Aldington, titled Life for Life's Sake (New York: Viking, 1941). Although the circumstances were different, I thought of my own experience as he described what happened to him when he returned to London after serving in World War I (pp. 202-203)—
[In a London bookstore] A little further down was a display of French books. One shelf of about forty particularly held my attention. I thought: This is a remarkable coincidence; it's the first time in my life I've ever seen a row of second-hand books, every one of which I've read. Mechanically I pulled down one of them and opened it. On the flyleaf was written: Richard Aldington. I took down another, with the same result.
My first thought was that the house where I had stored my books had been burgled; and full of righteous indignation I plunged into the shop to try to trace the thief. Again the bookseller remembered me, and at once looked up his records. If I had suddenly and unexpectedly been hit between the eyes I could not have been more stunned than when I learned the books had been sold by a "friend," a Bloomsbury intellectual, who had rooms in the house and therefore access to the storeroom. Evidently he had come to the conclusion that I was unlikely to return from the front, and that since the books were no use to him he might as well change them into beer.
|Baby Hummingbirds © Craig Ede|
Richard Aldington (from the same book), p. 206—
My French colleague, Henry de Montherlant, making a pilgrimage of devotion to the sacred field of [the Battle of] Verdun, found skulls of our dead comrades on which tourists had scratched their names and the initials of their country.
Rex Beach, Personal Exposures (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1940), p. 166 [his recollection of having been attacked by a huge crocodile while making a wildlife film]—
To this day it gives me a chill to see an alligator-hide suitcase with the lid open. I don't trust those creatures even when they have brass fittings and a monogram.