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My Friend’s Library, A Story of Association Copies

November 12, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

GUEST POST: by Oliver B. Pollak

We spent a week in Los Angeles with my 1960s college roommate and celebrated our three days apart birthdays. Beryl and his partner Joyce’s bookshelves holding 1050 volumes, a half century accumulation, were overflowing. They have a lovely house but building more bookcases is not an option. They asked me to assist. She needed order and was bent on purging books she did not like and those she will never get to. Reluctant but not intransigent he consented to surrendering two of his three copies of H. W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage.

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This Jewish household slants toward Judaica and Israel. Joyce favored fiction and has about 45 books on gardening. My penchant for association copies led me to sentimental treasures. Joyce’s parents fled Nazi dominated Austria in the late 1930s. They revealed their admiration for German literature by ownership of two books by Goethe including a Vienna imprint of Reineke Fuchs.

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Hebrew books included a First Year in  Hebrew, Sixth Revised Edition, first published in 1911. Written in pencil in the 1914 imprint published by S. Druckerman [German for printer], 50 Canal St., N.Y., is the statement “Property of Harry Weisenfeld.” Another Hebrew book belonged to Sam Suplin, my friend’s grandfather, born in 1882 in the Ukraine.

Markings on books tell variegated stories. The Daily Prayers with English Translation by Dr. A. Th. Philips (Hebrew Publishing Company, 77-79 Delancey St., NY), initially owned by Bayla, my host’s sister, Beryl inscribed his name on the fore edge. The interior indicates he lived in Mexico City during the early 1950s while his father attended medical school there.

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Upon returning to Los Angeles, he attended Fairfax High School in the late 1950s where he participated in the ROTC program and received the almost miniature pocketbook, Readings from the Holy Scriptures prepared for use of Jewish Personnel of the Army of The United States with facsimile signatures of President Roosevelt and Chief of Chaplains (United States Government Printing Office, Washington: 1942).

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The copy of The Story of Bible Translations (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1917) by Max L. Margolis came from the library of Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern and leader in Jewish genealogy. I also know Leonard Greenspoon the author of Max Leopold Margolis: A Scholar’s Scholar (1987). ABE books is offering eleven books by Margolis for $4,500.

You can learn how friendships are cemented by common reading and interests. For instance, my friend and I share an interest in Alexander Calder and Carroll Summers whose artwork adorns our home and office walls with catalogues raisonnés lining our shelves.

A few books are signed by authors including Helen Hayes, Billy Crystal, and Michael Elias. Eight books by Ron Wolfson and myself, and four by his rabbis Naomi Levy and Edward Feinstein sit on the shelves. He has two copies of Never Alone (2020) inscribed by Natan Sharansky. Five signed volumes by Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis were purchased at a charity auction.

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Quintessential Pleasures, Reflections on the Simple Joys of Life (1993) inscribed to Ruth by David in 1995 was an outlier. Ruth Erlich (1918-2012), an accomplished artist, lived three houses down the street. My friend went to the estate sale, walked through the house and for a pittance picked up the sweet museum bookstore, Hallmark-like book and a three ring binder filled with photographs of Ruth and her artwork. Would Ruth’s daughter, her family, or an art archive be interested.

We share favorite books. We sent a copy of The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish (2017). Kadish mentions Spinoza repeatedly. While reading the shelves I saw The Living Thoughts of Spinoza by Arnold Zweig (London: Green and Co., 1939) with a book plate of Harry Maizlish, a family friend. The two books now sit on the shelf next to each other. Joyce and I share an interest in books about bookstores, starting with The Bookshop (1978) by Penelope Fitzgerald, and most recently, The Bookshop of Second Chances (2020) by Jackie Fraser. Joyce and my wife Karen send each other cookbooks.

This is an expansive story for a diminishing audience. Observant readers can scan friends and family shelves and imagine literary salon connections. Marriage and divorce, like mergers and spinoffs, affect book  collections. Ex-spouses and ex-sister in law bookplates tell a story. Remarriage can start another chapter. My friends have four siblings and former spouses, tangents of a potentially larger story. Maybe their blended families of six children will be interested in their books.

We extracted 130 books, discussed Goodwill and the Salvation Army, and settled on the Council Thrift Shop run by the National Council of Jewish Women.

Oliver B. Pollak is an emeritus professor of history, University of Nebraska at Omaha, the author of eleven books and hundreds of articles and a member of the Book Club of California and The Institute for Historical Study.

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