Saturday, October 8, 2016

Ephemera: The Brontes, Hemingway, and Joe Reader

One day while visiting my local used bookshop, I found a letter inside one of the books dated from the 1960s, I felt like I had found some sort of hidden treasure. Steve, the bookshop owner, was less enthusiastic, saying that these items dropped through his hands all the time on their way to the trash. So he had no problem parting with it. I went home, eager to explore this lost heirloom, something that was certain to shed light on a secret world long gone.

It turned out to be rather tepid: the mother of a college student relating all the social happenings in their obviously affluent world. And though it didn't come close to the interest level of the postcard collection I own from one turn-of-the-other-century woman in downstate Illinois, I still liked it; the address indentation is also something from a bygone era. And the daughter certainly didn't seem to treasure it enough to recall where she'd put it. That in itself is a story. 

Which brings me to the subject of today's post: literary ephemera. Apparently I'm not the only one who finds this sort of thing fascinating: there's an entire book with pictures of similar items called Forgotten Bookmarks. The author is himself a used bookstore owner who has kept a record of these lost bookmarks. What makes Forgotten Bookmarks so interesting is that he not only shows the letters, photos, and other fascinating/dull ephemera found in the middle of books but he also shows the books in which these items were found. Some of them make fascinating connections.

What about the ephemera of famous authors? When I first realized that there was a book on the Bronte's regarding some of their personal items, I somehow imagined a coffee table book. Never mind that the title contains the number nine, as in The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Items (duh!). But once I got over my ignorance-based disappointment, I came to see that The Bronte Cabinet is a brilliant idea for a book. Considering that these beloved authors left behind so little of their actual selves, it's fascinating to view their lives from the prism of some of their belongings, such as their handmade journals, their portable writing desks, etc. The author not only looks at these key items in themselves but as they appear throughout all of the Bronte novels.

And finally, the glossiest, most impressive-looking book in the group belongs to Ernest Hemingway, or at least a group of authors who decided to publish a book on the holdings of the Ernest Hemingway archives in Oak Park, IL, Hemingway's birthplace and boyhood suburb. 

I must admit that I am not a fan of either the man or his writing, even though my husband and I sing at the Birthplace Home each Boxing Day and I've volunteered in the archives. I just can't understand what the fuss is all about and far prefer the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway's tortured compatriot. But the archive holdings certainly tell a story and if The Bronte Cabinet tells a detailed story of three authors from the point of view of a few pieces of ephemera, Hidden Hemingway tells the story of the ephemera. It doesn't necessarily shed any additional light on its subject but fans of the writer will find much to enjoy within its glossy pages.