Friday, August 7, 2015

A Real-Life Mystery

Stella and I often shop together for presents for our respective birthdays. This is easier in several ways: our birthdays are close (July and August); we both know the "rules" (books are the preferred gifts, used books are just fine, nothing excessively expensive, etc.) and we tend to prefer the same bookstores; we can always ask about a particular item because the intended recipient is there to see it; our memories are both ancient enough to have forgotten the specific gift by the time the birthday arrives, allowing some element of surprise; there's hardly ever an unsuitable gift; etc. It's almost foolproof. Almost.

E. Roosevelt
When I began unwrapping my gift yesterday, I had a pretty good idea that it was Eleanor Roosevelt's autobiography: I had seen it, held it in my hands at the bookstore, read a few paragraphs, and thoroughly approved of Stella's choice (yes, she found it; yes, she knows my tastes that well).

H. W. Brands
But that's not what it was. When the last of the tissue and ribbon headed for the floor, I found to my surprise that I held in my hands H. W. Brands's Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. With due respect to Mr. Brands, a UT history professor who has a couple dozen books to his credit and a following in his field, and notwithstanding my acknowledgment that many of "his [Roosevelt's] class" really did think FDR a traitor to it and a radical, I have to say it was not a book I'd have bought for myself. Hey, it's a free country (or so I'm told); you have to allow me my own approach to political hagiography... and this book doesn't appear to fill the bill. Now please, no lectures about reading challenging books; life is short and getting shorter birthday by birthday.

So, there are two questions. First, how did this happen? Stella admits she paid to have it gift-wrapped at the bookstore; the swap might have been accomplished there, though that still doesn't explain why the substitution was made. Second, and harder to answer, what do I do about it?

Part of me feels I should want to read the book, even if I don't really want to read it. This copy is a signed first edition, which may appeal to the collector in you, but that collector is absent in me. And it's visibly (gently) used, giving credibility to the notion that its previous owner read and appreciated the book. But part of me just wants my E.R. autobiography that I so briefly held that day a few months ago. What to do?


  1. what to do?

    that's easy, you buy stella a copy of the book that you want to read!


    -- hipparchia

    1. :-) Why, hipparchia, that's very much what I decided to do! Amazon has many copies of E.R.'s autobiography, and because it's such an old book, and was popular in its own day, it's quite inexpensive now, even allowing for shipping.

      I'd still love to know how and why the switch was made...

    2. BTW, hipparchia, this fellow Brands's most recent book? A biography of Ronald Reagan. You don't write a biography of someone so controversial unless you've already taken sides in the controversy...

    3. :-) Why, hipparchia, that's very much what I decided to do!

      that's how my family has always done it. :)

      Ronnie raygun? I probably wouldn't want to read the book either, but you could always thumb through and see if the former owner left any interesting notes in the margins...

      as for how did the switch happen, did stella just call up the bookstore on another day (when you weren't with her) and ask them to giftwrap the Roosevelt autobiography for her to come by and pick up?

    4. also, the new captchas are kinda fun, I might have to start spamming your comments section :D

    5. yes, that's me!
      -- hipparchia

    6. hipparchia - new info: the E. Roosevelt autobio turned up on the small bookshelf beside my easy chair. Probably been there from the day we shopped: Stella has a habit of asking the clerk to put all of both of our purchases in the same sack, admirable environmentally but sometimes results in books that belong beside her reading corner ending up beside mine, or vice versa.

      I don't have the Reagan book; I have one about FDR. The only hand annotation is the kind of author dedication you get at a bookstore signing; it is/was a signed first ed. I doubt I'll ever look for the Reagan bio; men who use an ax to chop down trees uninvited are not my "thang." :-)

      New comments mechanism? I don't have to be signed in to be IDed, so I never see it. You want a cool commenting mechanism, look at ellroon's blog (Rants from the Rookery, in my blogroll) ... the entire interface is a textbox for the comment and a single checkbox that essentially says "please identify me, using your own web sources." Don't know how it works, but fortunately it does!

      I've been reading the E. Roosevelt; I suspect it's a better book for girlz than for me, but I'm not yet out of her adolescence, so all the sort of stuff boys are not as interested in as they should be fills this section. Once she grows up I have great hopes for the bio: I mean, she turned out really well IRL... ;-)



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