“Surprise and delight”: how a book by Toni Morrison from the Burnaby Public Library ended up with the author
Among the neat lines of books in Toni Morrison’s loft in Tribeca are many important works of literature and culture, sometimes personally inscribed with the deceased author by friends, students, and admirers.
There is, on his bedside table, one of Robert Caro’s books on Lyndon Johnson, that of Stephen King The comeback, and Barack Obama: the story, by David Maraniss. On the crisp white shelves that line the living room are books by Dickens and Kafka, Twain and Baldwin, books on slavery and hope, on writing and America.
And, among those over 1,200 volumes, one surprise: a heavily annotated copy of Ms. Morrison’s 1970 novel. The bluest eye – from the Burnaby Public Library.
The library book was spotted by freelance journalist and author Michelle Sinclair Colman, who recently gained access to the Manhattan property to write about the collection of books Ms. Morrison had there.
âFor me, books seem to be the most important thing in her lifeâ¦â says Ms. Sinclair Colman. “If you could get anything from Toni Morrison, it would be her books.”
The house is sold intact and is currently preserved as if, according to Sinclair Colman, the author “had just gone out for a coffee”. The property is currently listed for sale at US $ 4.75 million. And while others gaze at the peaceful interior of a residence once owned by one of the world’s most respected and renowned authors, readers and bibliophiles alike have thought of his books.
Ms. Morrison’s books have been listed in alphabetical order of author, and the Library’s copy of The bluest eye appears on a shelf in M, just after Birds of america by Lorrie Moore and 1934 by Alberto Moravia, in a section of Ms. Morrison’s own work. The book is sandwiched between a six-volume Knopf box set of his novels and a copy of Beloved.
The book has the original cover published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1970, pale with scrolling text on the front and a clear plastic dust jacket. Inside, the text has been heavily underlined in pencil with occasional hints in the margins, but not in Ms. Morrison’s distinctive handwriting.
âMy feeling, and it’s not based on anything, is that someone gave it to him because they saw how so engaged the reader was on every page,â Ms. Sinclair Colman said, before turning to stop to consider this person, whose underlining and notes have found their way back to the esteemed author.
“Can you imagine if you were the one who did this?” And you found out that Toni Morrison saw what you did and that it meant something to her? “
Beth Davies, chief librarian of the Burnaby Public Library, says a news alert first mentioned the connection in Ms Sinclair Colman’s story for Gallery Magazine, and soon messages started coming in, saying things like “OMG” and “wow” and “extraordinary!” “
âIt was so special, but also so incongruous to have a book from our library in the collection of a Nobel Laureate for Literature,â Ms. Davies said. She said the find was personally significant because The bluest eye had been a book that had changed her life as she grew older, and she liked the idea that a copy in her library might have the same impact on someone. She described the reaction to the discovery as “just surprise and delight”.
The book contains some clues to its history. A card envelope taped inside shows it was in circulation before the system was fully computerized, and thanks to a barcode, Davies says staff can say “with reasonable confidence” that the copy arrived at the library on August 19, 1983.
While some joked on Twitter about the library trying to retrieve the book – or scoffed at the idea that such an esteemed character had an unreturned library book – a stamp confirms that the book was in fact removed from circulation through the library, possibly due to the heavy notations inside. Ms Davies said it would likely have been sold for around 50 cents at one of the library’s book sales.
After additional detective work, Ms Davies said library staff believed the copy was likely taken out of circulation in 1995.
It is not known how the book traveled the 5,000 miles from Burnaby to Manhattan and ended up in Ms. Morrison’s personal library. There are, Ms. Davies notes, âso many possibilitiesâ.
âIt’s just a beautiful thought to think of a Burnaby Public Library book that finds a home in such a prestigious location,â she said.
The book was one of two books in the library in Mrs. Morrison’s apartment. The other is a copy of The illustrated original of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle. Its provenance is also a mystery.
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