Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Library of Missing Books

Is it possible to pine away after a lost book? Apparently.

But it seems particularly ridiculous to carry a torch for a missing book if indeed one still owns it in three different editions. The level of absurdity reaches absolutely giddy heights if (as is the case) each of those editions is supposed to be improved, i.e. more complete than the last, and if all three are vastly more readable, as physical objects, than the lost original.

Because yes, I have the October 3, 2000 edition of The Sonnets by Ted Berrigan, listed somewhat hilariously at amazon.com as "Penguin (Non-Classics)" (well okay, if you say so); I've long had the 1982 United Artists Books edition; and a few years ago, in a fit of grief, I bought the 1964 Grove Press edition from a guy in the Netherlands.

What I don't have anymore is the crudely mimeoed and stapled stack of pages published by "C" Press in 1964, in an edition of three or four hundred copies. Ron Padgett, who typed the stencils, says four hundred in an essay in Nice to See You: Homage to Ted Berrigan, which Coffee House published in 1991; sellers of rare books seem to say three hundred, and they want considerably more than a thousand dollars for it.

I had it when we moved to Hawai`i in 1975, shipping all our worldly goods in a container that left from the Port of Oakland. I had it during the two years that my husband taught mathematics at UH Manoa. But somehow, in the chaos of moving back to California, it seems to have been misplaced. I say seems to have because to this day I am still thinking of places it might have been stashed by accident, and I'll probably always maintain the image of it turning up, as cheerfully shabby as ever, to assume its rightful place among its brethren.

It would have been easy for someone else to misplace it, and I did have friends helping in those last insane days, with a seven-year-old running around. It was about the size of the average glossy magazine and might have been shuffled in with a bunch of those and (this is difficult to think about) tossed into limbo. (The thought that it was recycled or that it's mouldering somewhere in a landfill fills me with despair and makes me want to wear a hair shirt and beat myself with birch branches, to atone for my carelessness.)

What seems completely wrong, in each of the other editions, is the cover. That's because the covers are wrong: they're not the thing you see above. As far as I'm aware, the original cover, by Joe Brainard, was nowhere on the web before today. I scanned a picture of it from Nice to See You, and have to say that it's a kind of tonic for what ails me to see it again, a thing in itself, and not closed up in the pages of a different book.

The other covers are definitely slicker, and some might say lovelier, but I will never be reconciled to them.

My sorrow isn't about the money, which I would have left on the table in any case unless I had a starving baby. No chance that thing would have walked out of here (with my consent) while I am still living, so it must be about something else. Is it possible to miss a book physically? Because that's what it's about: I want to touch it again. I want to feel its strange heft, turn its pages (carefully), note again the way the staples fail to really hold it together.

Perhaps you, too, have a book that got away? I'd like to imagine all those lost and cherished books in a secret library somewhere, our never-burned, secret Alexandria.

~ . /~ . /~ . /~ . /~ . /~ . /~ . /~ . /~ . /~ . /~ . /~ . /~ . /~ . /~ . /

Going through the eye of the needle, alas, and no doubt it's going to happen more than once, although I hope to be here at least a few times a week.

So check in when you can and find us stuttering (or strumpeting) back to life....


mongibeddu said...

I worked with Carol Gallup for a while in SF, and she brought in a copy of that first edition of The Sonnets once, for show and tell. We all went pretty much slap-happy in our midnight cubicle, as if we knew it was a fire in the arctic, that eventually was gonna go out, leaving us cold. And sure enough it did: Carol brought her book back home, and I never saw it again.

Except that glimpse you've just now given of the cover.

Ben F.

Rachel Loden said...

Ben, so good to see you here --

but that sounds excruciating. Fire in the arctic! Yes. And you know, I thought talking about all this was going to make it better, but it hasn't, at least so far: it's actually just sharpened the pain.

Maybe this is some necessary stage of grief. Or recovery from book lust, except I'm not recovering.

Jordan said...

Thought J. Johns did the cover?

Rachel Loden said...

Hi Jordan,

That would be news to me. Here's a bit of Padgett's "On the Sonnets," from Nice to See You:

"For personal reasons I wasn't seeing very much of Ted while he was writing The Sonnets, though we lived nearby and had the same friends. But by late spring of 1963, when he started 'C' magazine, I was feeling friendlier, and by the spring of 1964 he had started publishing 'C' Books. He edited my first collection and I edited the first edition of The Sonnets, four hundred copies with a beautiful cover by Joe Brainard, to whom the book is dedicated."

The caption underneath the image above says "Cover by Joe Brainard for the original 'C' Press edition of The Sonnets, 1964."

But I'm curious, because pretty much anything can be wrong in this world, including people's memories -- where did you hear that?

Jordan said...

Whoops! I'd seen it attributed to Johns somewhere, and that and the stencil-lettering led me astray.

Rachel Loden said...

Turns out that there's a Johns connection to the Grove Press edition of The Sonnets: he used the title page in a print.

More on this tomorrow, perhaps.