There are 10 Commandments, several sins against the Holy Spirit, innumerable offenses that cry to heaven for vengeance and surely many other lists of forbidden acts from congregations unknown to me. Yet one such act has been able to fly under the radar and avoid the spotlight, maybe even bargained off the table by Moses up there on the mountaintop. Commandment No. 11 should definitely be “Thou shalt not throw out books.”
I am a good boy, and I do not throw out books. My wife, pure as the driven white stuff in all other matters, will have to face the music at the Pearlies, and confess that she does. She also leads me into temptation, saying things like, “That carton in the garage that says ‘JERRY’S BOOKS’ is from when we moved from Centerport to Fort Salonga 23 years ago.” There are two not too subtle messages here: 1) You’ll never read any of those books and 2) You’ll never read any of those books. She’ll discover today, as she reads this, that two years ago I rooted around among those books, plucked out “The Caine Mutiny” and reread it. (It was so good I put it back in the carton.)
Throw out books? I’m looking at our bookcase and there’s a copy of “This Is My Best,” a compilation of writing by 93 American authors, copyright 1942. I’ve rarely looked at it since then but after all, it was my father’s book. It’s also two inches thick, looks terrific in the bookcase and contains six Ogden Nash poems.
Oh, here’s “The Best of H.T. Webster” from 1953. Anybody remember H.T. Webster? Yes, the cartoonist who created Casper Milquetoast, “The Timid Soul.” A treasure. Look, here’s a 4 1/4- by six-inch book, “Barrack Room Ballads and Ditties” by Rudyard Kipling, circa 1899. A beauty — three-color stamped cover, two-color title page, printed endpapers …
But those are sort of exotic. Why do I have six hardbound Elmore Leonards, including 1985’s “Glitz”? Why are there endless clusters of John Irving, Robert Parker and Barbara Kingsolver paperbacks? Why is there a brittle and brown 1972 paperback of “The Maltese Falcon”? Why are there three Spanish college textbooks? And why is David McCullough’s 1,120-page “Truman” taking up all that space? (I know the answer to this — I actually finished it and remain extraordinarily pleased with myself.) And where’s my “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich?”
Oh, there is something else. I saw a rare book company’s ad offering an original 1926 “Winnie the Pooh” for $8,200. My copy is from 1935, the 114th printing (truly), but hey, hope is the thing with feathers.
I do have my “Lucky to Be a Yankee,” Joe DiMaggio’s 1946 autobiography — the first and only printing, in pretty good shape. In my mind I see an old guy living in an old house on Old Shipyard Lane calling me up saying, “I read your latest column. I’ll give you [pick one: $8,200 / $820 / $82 / $8.20 / $.82] for the DiMaggio book.”
Then there’s my 1945 first printing of Weegee’s “Naked City,” Weegee being the famous New York City photographer who … oh, never mind.
Mr. Case, of Southold, is retired from Oxford University Press and a former member of Southold Free Library’s board of trustees. He can be reached at Caseathome@aol.com.