De libribus perditis

A book is missing. It’s unique: Truman Capote’s own copy of In Cold Blood, signed by him. 

As an object it’s nothing to look at, so what galls me is that I must have sung its praises to someone, who then took it. I’m not a bookseller, really, and my credibility as a bibliographer is shaky; I trade on my enthusiasm for the books in this shop, and I do my very best to explain and transmit that enthusiasm. What a shame, then, if that same enthusiasm is to blame for the disappearance of In Cold Blood.

Bibliophiles are evangelists for the incomparable, irreplaceable physicality of books. Today I was working on Macklin’s 1800 folio bible (about which more when I've done with it), the largest ever printed by letterpress, bound by Hering (who was admired by Lord Byron) in blue straight-grained morocco. I’m lucky. But most books aren’t – weren’t, even – like this gilt monster. What’s so special about mass-market edition-bound books?

When I was abroad, my father put my books into storage. Once I returned, I retrieved them and found them ruined by damp, water (different from damp) and rodents. They bore the imprint of the milk-crates in which they had been lain. I had nothing of value, nothing a bookseller would value, but these books limned my mind’s progress from its earliest. My copy of Charlotte’s Web with my feeble first-grade pencil signature broke apart. The copy of Little Men given me by my grandmother stank and rotted. The very first rare book I’d bought ($5 at Housing Works on Crosby Street), an 1850 Paradise Lost with flowers pressed in, turned a putrid color and went to pieces. I stood over them and wept, the closest I ever hope to come to losing a child.

I’m not sure my tale of woe has anything to do with the lost Capote, though both are awfully sad. Having books means having books to lose.