There was an almost perfect copy of Papa: Hemingway in Key West 1928-1940 by James McLendon who I knew when I lived briefly in Key West. Tucked inside this Popular Library paperback [which, by the way, sold for .95 cents when it was published in 1972] was an article about Hemingway from an April 12, 1999 Newsweek. It was about the publication of True at First Light, the last writings of Papa edited by his son Patrick.
I also picked up a brand new copy of The Sportswriter, a novel by the Pen/Faulkner winning writer Richard Ford, as well as a collection of short stories, The Next New World written by one of my favorite Peace Corps writers, Bob Shacochis (Eastern Caribbean 1975-76).
None of these books were library marked. They had, however, been given to the library. And they were now stacked on the bargain shelf of the library, next to the small cafe that sold snacks and coffee, and in front of an art exhibition of high school end-of-year art work.
I was in the New Rochelle Public Library, where, (and I checked the computer to make sure), they have copies of some of my novels. So, you can guess, this is one of my favorite libraries.
It is also here where I find old books that have outlived their jackets or value to this library. Still, they are special to me as they are some of the books I grew up with. A novel by John P. Marquand, a writer I read when I was eleven or twelve. I loved his most famous book, Point of No Return. And who among you have read anything by Hamilton Basso? Have you read The View From Pompey Head? That book came out in 1954. Then there is The Ninth Wave [published in 1956] by Eugene Burdick. It won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award back in ’56. [Burdick, as you might know, was the co-author with William Lederer of The Ugly American, the novel that launched the Peace Corps.] And I might add to that list of books being given away by the library, The Zinzin Road, a novel about the early days of the Peace Corps in Liberia published in 1966 and written by Fletcher Knebel, author of Night of Camp David and co-author of Seven Days in May. [Go to any yard sale and you’ll mostlikely find a copy of the Zinzin Road. Knebel wrote this novel after he did an evaluation of the Peace Corps project for Charlie Peters Evaluation Department in the agency. I have several copies of the novel, don’t ask me why. I am not crazy about the writing, but the story is interesting, and Knebel was onto something, not about the Peace Corps, but about Americans, black and white.
What does this say about these good books being given away or sold off for a quarter? Should it depress every writer or would-be writer out there? [If you really want to be depressed go to a book store (if you can find one) and look at the hundreds and hundreds of new books being published, and not one of them yours!]
No, what finds their way onto the giveaway shelves of most libraries are the books that have been best sellers. The libraries have enough copies that they can toss away those without book jackets or with coffee stains. While these copies have been left to die, there is another one somewhere else on a shelf that is living the good life.
So, go ahead and write a best seller and I’ll buy a copy on the giveaway shelf at my local library.