If you’re someone who has a lot of books, you know how this goes. You’ve got a favorite volume, one dealing with a subject covered in no other books you have, or only covered glancingly or inadequately. And then one day either you take it out of the house for some reason, or you lend it to someone… and it’s never seen again. No one knows where it’s gone.
For months if not years, the space formerly occupied by that book in your in-head virtual library is empty. It aches every time you “look” at it. Again and again you try to figure out where the hell that book went, and how. It may not even be a particularly valuable one, but its absence drives you nuts. And if it is valuable — or is now — and as a result you can’t afford to replace it, that drives you around the bend as well.
Then suddenly, without warning… it reappears. And you get to experience a very strange brand of disbelieving joy, one that makes non-book-loving people stare at you if they’re in the area. You look with astonishment at the thing in your hands. You’re tempted to hug it (though you refrain if there’s a chance this might hurt it). And for that short time until the “This book was lost and now is found” feeling settles a little, the world is unusually bright.
This happened to me today. Back in the day I used to do art on scratchboard — it wasn’t all that great, I’m not going to reproduce any of it here — and during that period I studied the best scratchboard and pen-and-ink artists to learn what I could from their art. For my money, the king of them all was Franklin Booth. The incredible delicacy of his work, and the wonderful sense of sheer space in his illustrations, attracted me powerfully as soon as I laid eyes on it. When Franklin Booth: Painter With A Pen came out in 2002 — with an introduction by Roy Krenkel, no less — I bought it immediately, as it was the biggest assemblage of Booth’s works to be found.
And then, a year or two later, the book went missing. The last time anyone had seen it was when I took it over to a friend’s house to scan it. After that it was as if the Earth had opened and swallowed it. For years I hunted for it all over the house, then eventually gave it up as forever lost.
Until today… when Peter, doing some hunting through his own bookshelves, called down the stairs: “Is this that book you were looking for?”
“Oh God,” I said, because for the past several months I’d been trying to find a misplaced copy of Richard Hinckley Allen’s Star Names: Their Lore And Meaning, which had gone into hiding (I knew it hadn’t left the house, and was therefore in that legendary location called ‘Around Here Somewhere’). “The Star Names book?”
“No, this — ” And he held out the Franklin Booth book.
Astonishment. “Where the hell was it?!”
A shrug. “Shelved with some art books.”
Yes, I thought, but not with any of my art books, what was it doing down on that shelf? …No point in even asking this kind of question. Sometimes when you have two book fans in one house, stuff migrates, gets misshelved, gets buried…
Never mind. The book is here, is in perfect condition, not even any spine fading (having been sitting for years on a bottom shelf of one of the darkest bookshelves in the house, at the top of a staircase where no natural light reaches). Gorgeous, lovely thing. I’m so glad to see it again. (And honestly, I don’t care that it’s now worth up to 400% and 2000% of what I paid for it. It’s not leaving the house.)
So, for today… for a little while, at least… we celebrate the restoration of the lost and the (local) triumph of order over chaos. Yay!
Meanwhile, to celebrate, here’s a typical Booth work (“Echoes”) from another (lesser) Booth book that I scanned some years back…