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Mares: Autographed Books

07/25/11 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(HOST) For more than fifty years, commentator Bill Mares has collected autographed books. A few months ago, he gave that collection of several hundred volumes to the St. Michael's College library.

(MARES) Collecting autographed books in some ways is like collecting baseball cards, stamps or beer cans. There is first the heady ignition of the hunt, the steady fire of accumulation and the glowing coals of satisfied possession.

What distinguishes autographed books is their direct inky link to the hand of the creator. That signature intensifies the ideas and experiences the book contains. You don't just own the book; you "own" the writer. Signed books are things of the mind, made concrete. The often illegible signatures become instant icons. The first autographed book I owned was a biography of Abraham Lincoln, by a former student of my mother's.

Then, I began collecting  autographed books on my own in college, when I sought out the signatures in books of several professors.

Later on my mother passed on to me volumes by Gunter Grass, Lady Bird Johnson, and Henry Kissinger. My brother who had lived in Washington D.C. boosted the collection with dozens of books on current affairs which he picked up at author appearances. Madeleine Albright, Helen Thomas, Thomas Friedman and others. Another set were those found on dusty back shelves in now-forgotten bookstores, by Pearl Buck, Booth Tarkington, Ida Tarbell, Admiral Richard Bird. Each find was like fishing for perch and hooking a salmon.

The largest number of books came from simply asking. I wrote letters to many authors through their publishers, saying something to prove I had read the book and asked for a signature. Several Vermont writers I could approach directly, David Huddle, Howard Mosher, John Elder. When J.M. Coetzee, the South African novelist (and eventual Nobel Prize winner) spoke at Middlebury, I "bribed" the public relations director with some honey to get two of Coetzee's books signed.

One of my favorite acquisitions was was UP FRONT, Bill Mauldin's famous collection of WW II cartoons. I'd asked him for a signature as I left Chicago, where we both worked for the Sun -Times newspaper. Months, years passed. Nothing. Finally, it arrived, not just with a signature but one of his distinctive drawings in color with the inscription, "I may be late but I get there! Bill."

I'm really quite rational about this hobby. If I were addicted, I would sail to Martha's Vineyard and troll the parties of the intelligentsia. But I'm not.

I probably wouldn't have developed this hobby if I hadn't been a life-long reader and small-time author myself. But books have warmed my life, and autographed books, like firewood I split myself, warm me twice.
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