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Norman Mailer

My copy of Norman Mailer’s Cannibals and Christians came from my grandfather’s bookshelf. By the inscription, on February 21, 1979, my grandfather gave it to Ray Muncy, a local historian and professor at Hard/ing U/niver/sity, where my grandfather also taught. How it returned to my grandfather’s library I don’t know—he was a great distributor of books when he was alive and I can easily imagine him, with his long, slow gait—not quite a limp—walking to the post office to drop book-stuffed envelopes in campus mail. He would have given books more out of the overflowing nature of his own curiosity than out of assurance that the books were wanted. Indeed, it’s possible that Cannibals and Christians returned to my grandfather’s library by way of the thrift stores he frequented. As I imagine it, some years after he put the book in Muncy’s mailbox, Muncy, needing to cull his own library, included an unread book of Norman Mailer essays and poems (Perhaps asking at the time, “Where did this come from?”) in a box of books he dropped off at Goodwill. I can see my grandfather discovering it there, purchasing it again, and setting it on a shelf in the living room. He probably noticed the inscription and remembered that he’d given that very same book away years before, but he as well as anyone knew that libraries, like organisms, swell and contract with age.

It’s a strange book to have discovered in my grandfather’s library. I am certain that the word cunt appears in it more than in all of the other book he owned. My grandfather’s own solidly conservative life, manifest in his prominent skepticism about the civil rights movement and in his support for all things anticommunist, contrasts with Mailer’s wry skepticism and prominent identity as an antiwar protester. Perhaps he was there are evidence that something was wrong in American life. Perhaps my grandfather cited him at length in one of his many books as such. If so, Mailer would probably have liked that.

 

Comments

I have a copy of a book by Diane Wood Middlebrook that she inscribed to Jorie Graham, and another book inscribed by its author to Robert Bly. I’ve always been fascinated by the fates of books with inscriptions.

It is interesting, isn’t it, how one decides not just to give another person a book, but to inscribe it and suggest the gift means more than a hope that it would be enjoyed.