Mittwoch, 14. August 2013

The Palau Islands, Pacific Ocean, and Bochum, Germany

Buying collections is always an exiting business, at least for me. There are so many elements of surprise, even if you have an idea what is in the collection, because you helped build it. Here is one of my most pleasant recollections of buying from an old customer.

The Pelew, now Palau, Islands are a group of about 250 islands in the Western Pacific. They were first sighted by Maggelan in 1522 and claimed for the Spanish crown. In 1899 the Spanish sold them to the Germans, who owned and explored them until 1914. There is some literature on them, most notably Keate’s “An Account of the Pelew Islands” and several German publications. Not a region that lends itself to extensive collection of its literature, one would think.

However, I had a customer in Bochum, in the industrial heart of Germany, who collected just that. He didn’t buy much, but he bought regularly, was well informed and paid on the dot. A pleasant customer.

One day he phoned me and told me he had to part with his collection, as he and his wife were moving into a home for old people. I said I’d come and have a look at his books and he was very pleased.

A few days later I drove up to Bochum, right in the middle of the Ruhrgebiet. I was looking forward to meeting this man and seeing his collection. My route guidance system led me to a unprepossessing block of 50ies flats. I rang the bell and walked up the dingy stairs to the third floor, where a small, elderly man greeted me and took me into the tiny flat that was furnished in the typical 50ies style. His wife, a sweet, grandmotherish old lady, had prepared a huge plate of sandwiches, made coffee, and had set out what was quite obviously the best china. I ate and drank a cup of coffee, and asked to see the books. As I’d received a list, written out by hand with a fountain pen, I knew what I was going to find. But to keep up appearances, I dallied here and there, and after about an hour I said I’d reached a verdict. He called in “Mother” and they sat on the sofa, looking expectant. I quickly hitched up my original price a little and told them. They exchanged glances, and after a few seconds, “Mother” nodded almost imperceptively and “Father” agreed.

Then I asked him why he collected books on such a specialized subject. Well, he said, as a boy he’d read about these islands in a magazine article, and the name had captured his imagination. So he wanted to know more, had gone to the library, and, drawing a blank, had bought his first book on the subject.

Had he ever been there? Perhaps he’d been a seaman earlier in his life? No, he said, the farthest they’d ever been from home was Basle in Switzerland. “I’ve been a postman all my life, he said, and we never had much money to spare. What Mother saved up I spent on books.” Mother smiled and squeezed his hand.

I packed the books into boxes they had thoughtfully provided. Mother put the remaining sandwiches into a paper bag and gave them to me, and offered to fill a thermos with coffee. I thanked and took my leave.

And, yes, the books sold quite well.

(Also published on the website of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, Picture: Wikipedia)

Mittwoch, 17. Juli 2013

The True Story of Migraines and Book Buying

Several years ago I had a customer who occasionally bought an expensive book. He was not a regular, but sometimes came by to buy something, I think to reward himself for business deals that had gone well.

He drove a flashy car, a Porsche that he was very proud of. He usually sprang out of it, wearing an Armani suit, an open white shirt and a gold chain around his fleshy, tanned neck.

One day he arrived unannounced - looking distraught.

“Something dreadful and disappointing has happened to me”, he moaned. “I need something to take my mind off it.”

I showed him several nice objects, and he finally took a 5-volume “Carl Freiherrn Hügels Kaschmir und das Reich der Siek …” He took it, not even bargaining about over the price.

He was really upset.

As I saw he was dying to tell someone, I cautiously asked about the reason for his agitated state of mind.

“You remember my girlfriend?”

 I did, a breathtaking, slightly overweight blonde.

“She suffers from these dreadful migraines.”

“Poor girl, that is really terrible”, I commiserated.

 “They take two or three days, and it’s horrible. So, we found that there is a migraine clinic near Karlsruhe (about 70 km from here) and that’s were I take her in my Porsche whenever the symptoms start. She usually stays the night, and I fetch her back when she feels better.”

I agreed that this was probably the best, and that I thought it was very kind of him.

“Yes,” he almost sobbed, “and now I’ve found out that she’s having an affair with the migraine doctor!”

I kept a straight face, packed his books into plastic bags, consoled him as best I could and then sent him on his miserable way.

(Also posted on the website of the International Antiquarian Booksellers' Association ILAB.)

Mittwoch, 6. März 2013

Tante Trude and the E-Book

The other day, I was having a very nice cup of coffee with Tante Trude in one of the old-fashioned cafès one still occasionally finds in Germany.

“Tell me, dear boy”, she said, pointing with her fork, “what is that little leather book you are always carrying around?”

I told her it was an electronic book. She was fascinated.

“An electric book? What does it do? Does it have a little lamp so you can read in the dark?”

“No, it’s an electronic book. In fact”, I said, opening my Kindle, “it is 140 books at the moment.”

She looked at the little machine, ate some Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, and frowned.

“How? 140? I mean, where are they all? It’s a computer, isn’t it? Do you buy the books in a shop?  How do you put them in there?”

“Stop, stop! One at a time. Yes, I bought it. And yes, I buy the books in the Internet as well. I’m not sure how it works myself, but they arrive instantly on the device, once I’ve bought them.”

“I can see how that could be useful”, said Tante Trude, sipping coffee daintily, “but it’s not like a real book at all. You know how I like to read, with a real book in my hands. It feels nice.” She handled the little device and transferred some cream onto the screen. “This is not to bad, but it’s not like a book at all.”

“I know, dear Tante”, I said, cleaning the cream off with a napkin. “It’s not supposed to be a real book. You know how much I like books and how many I’ve got, not to mention that I’ve been a bookseller for all of my life.”

“Yes,” she smiled. “You even pretended to sell books when you and the other children played shop …”

I cut her off hastily: elderly relatives sometimes go down memory lane and forget to come back on time:

“Yes, so I don’t think anyone can accuse me of not liking books. However, when I was waiting for you just now, I read. And I had over 140 books to choose from! Imagine the catastrophe of going somewhere and not having the right book with you. I remember going on holidays and taking an extra suitcase just for books. Now I carry a little library right here in my pocket. Isn’t that great?”

“Well, yes”, she answered, “but still, you know, real books … remember that time in London when I was allowed to touch that prayer book? THAT was a book, this is a reading machine.”

“To be sure,” I answered, “that’s what it is. And books are about reading, aren’t they? I mean, it’s what’s printed on the pages, that’s important, not the packaging!” I wasn’t quite sure about this line of reasoning, nevertheless, I was especially forceful.

“You may be right”, Tante Trude smiled, “but still, it’s not the same. I understand about taking lots of books along, I understand about buying a book when you feel like it. I understand all that. But I still think a nice book needs a nice binding, nice paper, ah, well, a nice feeling about it. That electric book of yours is a machine, books have souls.”

“Beloved Tante”, I implored, “books are made of dead trees, ink, and such, they don’t live, or have souls, as you call it. This thing is the future and a gift to all readers.”

“Nonsense, dear boy,” and she finished her cake. “I don’t deny it is useful. You can keep it, and read all you want. But I’ll still go to Frau Hermann and talk to her in the shop for a bit, and hear what she has to say about the books she’s gotten in, and I’ll buy a nice book from her.”

“Good on you, Tante Trude”, I said. “The world needs more people like you. But what do you do when you get cream onto your nice new book, eh?”

“I do what I always do – I lick it off”, she smiled. “Good bye, dear boy. Oh, and what do you do, when the electric fails? I can still read by candlelight!”

With that parting shot she was off, leaving me with my E-reader, my doubts and the bill.

(Also posted on the website of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers)

Mittwoch, 24. Oktober 2012

Tante Trude goes to Frankfurt

A few days before the Frankfurt Book Fair, and with it the Frankfurt Antiquarian Book Fair, was due to open, my phone rang:

“Good morning, dear boy”, Tante Trude trilled. “Are you up yet?”

I told her that it was half past nine on a working day and that, yes, I was up and actually working at my desk.

“Good, good”, she said, not listening at all. “Are you going to Frankfurt? I want to come along and see the books.”

I told her I was going to the Antiquarian Book Fair, and that she was welcome to come along and visit the famous Frankfurt Book Fair next door, but shouldn’t expect too much.

“I’m glad” she said, still not listening. “Because I’ve been told that the tickets are quite expensive.”

Indeed they are. To get in during the week costs a steepish € 44.--. Fortunately, kind colleagues had sent me a couple of free tickets. So I told my dear Tante Trude that she could come along. There were two rare books in the official Antiquarian Book Fair Catalogue that I wanted to buy, and I needed to be there on time, because there might be lots to draw in case I was not the only interested customer.

We arrived at the huge fair ground, and went in search of hall 6, where the antiquarian book fair was situated this year. They move it around a lot to keep the customers on their toes, I suppose. The hall had all the charm of a cold war border – tall grey walls with infrequent entrances, guarded by men who did not actually carry Kalashnikoffs, but looked as if they wished they did. Behind the walls, an incessant babble of voices. Frightening.

Well, the book fair hove in sight and it was at least carpeted in red, there were wooden shelves and they actually had old books on them. What a relief.

There were just over 40 exhibitors, not that many, and I thought I’d buy my two books, look around a bit, wait for my dear Tante and be off home in a couple of hours.

How wrong I was! Due to a mistake in the catalogue, several opening times were shown. This meant that between applying for a book from the catalogue and the drawing of lots, there was a hiatus of three hours. This meant, in effect, that instead of having an hour to make up their minds, prospective buyers of catalogued books had an ample three. Why bother with a catalogue at all, I ask. Anyway, after I’d looked at my two books, put my name on the list, I browsed the fair. Now, I like buying books and usually find something that I’ll take, even if I’ve never seen it before, this being what a rare book dealer is all about. At this fair, however, I didn’t find a thing! How frustrating! And there weren’t that many customers in the stands, so the chance that I overlooked something were pretty slim.

Well, when the three hours to the deadline had passed, I went along to the stand where my two books were waiting to be raffled off. There were several others there, all dealers exhibiting at the fair. The organiser had little lottery tickets, the highest number to win. I drew the number 2. It couldn’t be more obvious than that.

I went off to drink a cup of coffee which cost about half a month’s wages. After a further cup, Tante Trude came limping along, looking flustered and a little angry, something you do not often see in this placid lady.

“What a disappointment with the world of new books!” she said, plopping herself down on a chair.

I was going to tell her all about my own disappointment with the world of old books, but she rapidly went on:

“So many books! So many people! So many filmstars! So much noise! And they won’t even let you look at the books! I asked a girl if this book I was looking at was good, and she looked at me as if I was crazy! And some of the books don’t even have text in them! Just empty pages! Nobody seems to know anything! And they won’t even sell the books! All those snooty girls in short skirts and black stockings! And the men are even worse!”

She was running out of exclamation marks and breath.

I went and bought another coffee and a piece of cake. This cost about as much as a very good meal in a restaurant, with wine.

As she tucked into these, I told her about my day. She commiserated, and looked about with a practiced eye, having been to two rare books fairs before.

“Not very full, is it?” she remarked. “And it goes on until Sunday, you say? Five full days?”

I agreed that it was a long time, and you could probably go broke just by drinking coffee and eating cake.

“Let’s go home,” Tante Trude suggested. “I’ve seen the famous Frankfurt Book Fair, and it was an experience, but I don’t think I’ll come again.”

I agreed with her and we went off to find the car and go back to the real world where you can actually buy books - new and even old ones.

Freitag, 7. September 2012

Travels with my Aunt, Part 3 - Tante Trude in Istanbul

With the London Book Fair, summer holidays and so on, I still haven’t told you about the rest of Tante Trude’s and my adventures in Istanbul. Here you are.

The day after our arrival, sight-seeing began in earnest. Tante Trude wanted to see it all, but that is simply impossible. You wouldn’t know where to start. So my friend Celal and I decided we’d do it chronologically, which is a good idea, because Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul has such a very long history. Most of it is centred around the Golden Horn, which was used as a safe harbour for thousands of years, and from where the Bosporus could be controlled.

The sights of Istanbul are well known, so I will spare you a description of our itinerary. Tante Trude was enchanted and entranced. She ooh’d and aaah’d, and she loved every minute of it.

After three days of sightseeing and a certain amount of judicious shopping in the Grand Bazar, Tante Trude and I sat in a little café by the Bosporus, drinking tea and eating baklava.
 Sighing a little, she slipped her shoes off underneath the table and said:

“Well, dear boy, those were three interesting days. I don’t think I’ve seen so many lovely things in such a short time before. But now my feet hurt. I wonder why I never find a pair of really comfortable shoes.”

I didn’t like to tell her that her aching feet might have something to do with the weight they had to support. Instead I said:

“I know the very thing for weary bones. Let’s go to a hamam this afternoon.”

“A hamam? Is that like a sauna?”

Tante Trude doesn’t trust saunas because she thinks that they lead to all sorts of sinful doings, with men and women cooped up together (naked!!) in a hot room.

“No no, not at all,” I assured her, “a hamam is strictly divided between male and female sections. This is an Islamic country, after all. And I know the loveliest one in Istanbul. It’s the Cemberlitas Haman. It was built in 1584 by the famous architect Sinan, who also built the Fatih and the Süleymaniye Mosque and many other amazing places.”

So, on that afternoon, our driver dropped us at the sunken entrance to the hamam. It was built for the mother of Sultan Murad III, Nurbanu, and is situated on the Divanyoglu, the road leading to the Hagia Sofia and the Topkapi, at the entrance of the Grand Bazaar. We paid and Tante Trude was led to the women’s section, looking slightly apprehensive. I was given a tiny room with a couch in it, where I found a large “pestemal”, a cotton towel, which I wrapped myself into after undressing. The room was then locked and I went off to the “hot” area. The “sicaklik” contains a huge, heated marble platform, the “göbektasi (navel stone)” and is surrounded by twelve elegant arches. Marble screens inscribed with poetry enclose “halvets”, the even hotter private bathing chambers. This domed hall is one of a pair. Tante Trude was bathing in equal splendour next door.

I lay down and began to melt. Occasionally, one of the “tellaks” would empty a large bowl of hot water over me. When I was practically comatose, a wiry Turk arrived and began working up a huge lather with a “kese”, a rough sort of glove made from goat’s hair. He washed me from head to foot, using copious amounts of hot water and lavender-scented lather. After that he began a massage I’ll never forget. He new exactly where every muscle was, and kneaded it. It was painful in a relaxing way. After that I just lay there for a while, feeling utterly content. After a while I arose, somewhat groggily. I was swathed in many more pestemal and went to sit in the cool area. Here I was given tea and slices of oranges. I was utterly content, a feeling that the Turks call “keif”. When it became time to go and I was dressed again, and after the usual bakshish to all the people involved, I met Tante Trude in the foyer. She looked pink and scrubbed, and seemed to steam a little.

“Dear boy” she trilled “ I don’t think I’ve ever felt so clean before! That was marvellous! I’m so relaxed! And that nice fat massaging lady even spoke a little bit of German. We must do that again soon! And now I’m hungry.”

So I took her to a little restaurant behind the Süleymaniye Mosque, where they serve only a very special kind of bean soup, which is, as my friend Celal says, the best bean soup in Istanbul. I told her about Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who was the wife of the English ambassador at the Sublime Porte, and who also had only the highest praise for the hamam, and for the beauty of the women she had seen there. At this, Tante Trude grinned a little, and muttered something not too complimentary. Undaunted, I led on to Helmut von Moltke’s experience with the rejuvenating effects of the hamam in his “Letters on Conditions and Events in Turkey, 1835-39”, mentioned Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, Mrs. Walker’s “Eastern Life and Scenery”, all of which praise the Turkish Bath in the highest terms. I was just drawing breath to go on with Leyla Saz’ “Imperial Harem of the Sultan” and Freya Stark’s “Sketch of Turkish History”, when Tante Trude said:

“Stop showing off, dear boy, and order me a Turkish coffee, sweet, and some halva.”

I did, and as we sat sipping our coffee, Tante Trude looked at the mosque, at the lovely graceful minarets and at the people of all the races of the world walking by and said:

“It was a lovely holiday. The things I saw! Really, Istanbul is a crossroads of the world. A modern European city and a Middle Eastern one at the same time. And the things they offer you!  What you can’t get here is not worth having. But I’ll bet you can’t get a pair of really comfortable shoes here either.”

Donnerstag, 14. Juni 2012

Tante Trude’s Adventures in London

Well, we’re back from London. As I had expected, Tante Trude slept and dozed her way to Calais. Once on the boat, she roamed about excitedly, and was charmed to discover that the White Cliffs of Dover are indeed white, well, whitish. Driving on the “wrong” side of the road through Kent, she gave little squeaks of apprehension and was relieved when we reached our hotel in Earl’s Court. She had a lovely room on the ground floor with a little iron stair leading into the garden.

“Dear boy”, she said looking at the bright green lawn and the flowering bushes, “this is so very English!”

I agreed and told her that it was the frequent English rain that kept it all so green. Then I took her to the Blackbird pub, for ale and pies. She watched with awe as her half-pint and my pint were drawn. “I thought they just did that in old-fashioned films”, she murmured and then sipped. She made a face and decided she’d stick with German beer. Then we had pies, and again, she was intrigued that they served chips with them. The traditional vinegar on them seemed very odd to her continental tastes, and she absolutely balked at the HP sauce.

On Wednesday we set up our stand at the Antiquarian Book Fair. The venue is huge, with a high, domed glass roof and a very efficient air conditioning. Tante Trude proudly pinned her exhibitor’s badge to her blouse and busied herself with the stand until I asked her to go for a little walk. Then I set up the stand to my own liking and even sold one or two books to browsing colleagues. After a while Tante Trude came back:

“The books I saw! So many!”

I agreed that there were lots of books about, and asked her what she had liked.

“Oh, all sorts of books. There was even a man selling second-hand James Bond novels.”

I told her that those were not second-hand, but highly collectable and cost thousands. She goggled at me:

“But … but … they are not even really old!”

“Yes, I don’t quite understand it either, but if the dealer asks those prices, he probably gets them.”

She toddled off again in search of “old” books. I tidied up my stand, put out the bowl of Smarties (something of a trademark for me at fairs) and waited. More colleagues came by, attracted by the chocolates, we chatted a bit and exchanged news and gossip. Then Tante Trude was back, looking awed:

“Dear boy! I was looking at a wonderful prayer book just now, and the nice man let me handle it! It was over 800 years old! I was so exited! It was so beautiful! And I was allowed to touch it!” She was practically squeaking.

“He was probably hoping you’d buy it. You look prosperous.” I joked.

“No,” she murmured, with a far-away look in her eyes “ I need new shoes … I mean, I mean, I could never afford it.” And off she went again.

She came back several more times, having seen incunabula, costume plate books, amazing bindings and all the other sights of an international book fair.

“What a lovely profession you have”, she remarked, “always surrounded by beautiful things.”

“True, Tante Trude, but I still need to make money – even though with very nice merchandise. The bottom line counts. I don’t get these books I’m selling for free, you know, and even I have to eat occasionally.”

“Yes, yes, I know all that, but still …”.

When the fair opened the next day, she was there, hovering excitedly in the background while I did what one does at fairs: Talked to customers, to colleagues and, sometimes, to myself. After a while Tante Trude realized there was not much for her to do and toddled off to do some shopping. She came back much later bearing some mysterious parcels.

On the next day I had the usual strange customer. A man came to the stand and asked whether I had any books on chess. Even though I deal in travel books, I actually had one: “Chess in Iceland” by Willard Fiske. He asked:

“Is it a nice copy?”

I assured him it was and showed it to him. It is bound in cream half vellum with dark blue boards and some gilt to the spine. The book-block is uncut and quite clean. A nice copy.

“Oh, no”, the customer said, handing it back to me, “this is far to grand for me.” And walked away. He didn’t even look at the price.

The second and third day were rather slower, as they tend to be, and I got a chance to look around a bit, while Tante Trude minded the stand. It was a really large fair with 170 exhibitors. Even I got a bit confused as to what I’d seen, and I pitied the customers who just wandered around, sometimes looking a little lost.

The organization was very good, and on the final day we got our boxes within 20 minutes of closing time. Tante Trude helped me pack up and off we went for a final dinner. We went to a Japanese restaurant and Tante Trude eyed the menu with distrust. Fortunately, they had little pictures of the dishes, and she ordered something that didn’t look to foreign. As she watched me eating sushi she said with a slightly repulsed look:

“Well … what an experience! I didn’t see the Queen, but I saw Buckingham Palace, I saw Tower Bridge, I rode in a London taxi and on a red double-decker bus. And I saw some of the nicest books in the world. I’ll never forget that feeling when the kind man handed that prayer book to me! I do wonder how you can eat raw fish, though.”

And so we are back home again, Tante Trude in Bonn, probably showing the contents of those mysterious parcels to her adoring friends, and I in my bookshop.

When we parted, she said:

“Book fairs are fun and you learn a lot, but they do make your feet hurt!”

I have nothing to add to that.

Mittwoch, 30. Mai 2012

Buchgedanken I

There are many things that make a book an antiquarian book, not just the text. Some will point to typography, others will mention the binding, others again the former owner, if famous or important, or an interesting inscription. I am fond of these things as well. But I also like the imperfect, the slightly ramshackle, the signs of wear and tear - of life, in fact. In the many years that I’ve been dealing with antiquarian books, I must have seen every state of a book, from immaculate to conditions that could only be of interest to a necrophile. Bur, with each book I handle, I ask myself: Why? What is the story behind this stain, these scorch marks, this musty smell?

Es gibt so mancherlei, was neben dem Inhalt ein Buch ausmacht. Mancher wird auf die Typographie hinweisen, andere die Einbände erwähnen, wieder andere interessante oder hochbedeutende Provenienzen. Wie gesagt, es gibt so manches, das ein Buch zu einem nicht nur intellektuellen, sondern sinnlichen Erlebnis macht.

Ich schätze die oben angeführten Dinge und Zustände auch. Aber – ich bin auch ein Ferund des Unvollkommenen, des leicht Maroden, des etwas Angestoßenen, des Lebens eben. In den vielen Jahren, in denen ich schon Antiquar bin, habe ich wahrscheinlich Bücher in jedem erdenklichen Zustand gesehen, von verlagsfrisch bis zu Fällen, die eigentlich nur noch einen Nekrophilen interessieren können.

Aber bei jedem dieser Bücher frage ich mich: Warum? Was ist die Geschichte hinter diesem Fleck, dieser Brandspur, diesem Modergeruch?

Dieses Exemplar von Humboldts Kosmos, schön in goldgeprägtem Leder, Goldschnitt, alles was dazu gehört, warum klebt der Schnitt zusammen? Der Einband hat doch damals sicher Einiges gekostet, warum hat der neue Besitzer es nicht wenigsten einmal über den Daumen laufen lassen? Diese Freude habe nun ich und höre dieses einmalige Geräusch, wenn die Seiten sich voneinander lösen.

Oder dieser Band aus der Schwabeschen Reihe: Wer hat mit so viel Freude darin gelesen, dass in fast jeder Lage ein paar Tabakfasern liegen und er mit winzigen Brandlöchlein besprenkelt ist? Da hat wohl jemand wirklich geschmökert, vielleicht in seinem Lehnstuhl sitzend, und von fernen Ländern träumend.

Eine kleine Reihe indischer Erotika, die ich einst kaufte, in lila Saffianleder gebunden, roch betörend nach Patschuli-Räucherstäbchen. Was haben diese Bücher erlebt? Vielleicht nur die Phantasien eines einsamen junge Mannes, oder eines verträumten Mädchens.

Und wer legte die Photographie eines nackten Mädchens, das sich die Zähne putzt,in Band 3 von Barths Reisen in Afrika? War es da besonders sicher vor den spähenden Augen einer Mutter oder einer Ehefrau? Der arme Mann ... Was hat es mit dem Photo eines Mannes, bestimmt ein Engländer, auf sich, der mit Tropenhelm „pith helmet“ und Leinenanzug bekleidet, ein Krokodil an der Leine führt?

Wenn Bücher über die Conquista tapfer nach Zigarre riechen, dann ist das immerhin stimmig. Aber müssen sie gar so stinken? Ich war genötigt, die seltene Bemerkung: „Riechen stark nach Brazil-Zigarren“ in meine Buchbeschreibung aufzunehmen.

Warum lag ein Buch (ich erinnere mich nicht mehr an den Inhalt, es hatte aber nichts mit Numismatik zu tun) voller Geldscheine? Keine gültigen, leider, sonder alte türkische, spanische, venezulanische und sogar tibetische Noten. Und alle waren mit Klebefolie bedeckt. Warum?

Dass Folianten eher wasserfleckig sind als Bücher mit verträglicherem Format, ist ja kein Wunder. Sie stehen, oder liegen, neben dem Regal auf dem Fußboden. Ein umgestoßener Eimer, ein offenes Fenster bei Regen, und das Unheil ist geschehen. Wie aber war die Reaktion des Besitzers? Hat er gefasst geschwiegen und leise gelitten? Hat er geschimpft und geschrien, die Putzfrau entlassen und die Ehefrau verprügelt? Oder andersrum? Ich weiß es nicht.

Warum aus dem Einband eines in festes Leder gebundenen Barockwerkes ein paar Sohlen herausgeschnitten sind, ist ja nachvollziehbar. Einlegesohlen. Doch wer benutzt einen Bücherrücken zum Einschlagen von Nägeln? Anders kann man die schrecklichen Spuren nicht deuten.

Zurück zu den Beilagen. Einmal fand ich ein rührendes Testament in einer wissenschaftlichen Reihe. Der Verblichene wollte auf einem Teppich liegend begraben werden, den seine Geliebte für ihn geknüpft hatte. Ich habe es natürlich zurückgeschickt, hoffentlich noch rechtzeitig. Die wirklich deftigen Liebesbriefe allerdings, die ein Archäologie-Professor von einer Studentin erhalten hatte, die habe ich dann doch der trauernden Witwe erspart.

Großartig und oft seltsam sind auch Widmungen. „Horridoh und fette Beute“ wünschte 1940 eine Grete einem ungenannten Flieger. War ihr 1945 immer noch nach Horridoh? Lebte der Flieger da überhaupt noch? Wer war Tante Ludmilla, die ihrem lieben Neffen zum Wiegenfeste ein Buch über die Erstbesteigung des Kilimandscharo schenkte? War der Neffe (Hans) ein besonders abenteuerlustiger Knabe oder eher ein Duckmäuser, der zu großen Taten angestachelt werden musste?

Und der Mann, der in großen roten Buchstaben in Hedins Transhimalaja schrieb: „Dieses Buch darf nie verkauft werden. Wenn Sie es gekauft haben, so ist es gestohlen worden.“ – Glaubte er wirklich, das Schicksal überlisten zu können? Ich will gar nicht auf die vielen Stempel, Namenseinträge, Exlibris und andere Versuche, ein Buch als ein Eigentum zu kennzeichnen, eingehen. Sie haben alle, alle nichts genutzt.

Es gilt: Habent sua fata, libelli. Und nichts ist unterhaltsamer, seltsamer, heiterer und melacholisch stimmender, als über diese Schicksale zu träumen ...