The Secret Journey of a Book

Books can sometimes go on adventures themselves.  When I was in Desert Storm, strangers back in the U.S. sent us paperbacks that could be carried anywhere, so the books traveled to foreign locations, and even witnessed war.  One came back with me, and I still have it.

And sometimes there’s something special in the book that makes it stand out on its journey.  Perhaps it’s something the last reader left inside.  I’ve found receipts, theater tickets, checks, notes, and cards.  But my most interesting book took a journey and came back, curiously, to the right person.

My uncle, Ernie Rydberg, was a writer, along with his wife Louisa Hampton Rydberg (my grandmother’s sister).  During the 1940s and 1950s, he wrote short stories and children’s books.  Then, they were called children’s fiction, but would probably range range from middle grade to young adult.  Ernie tried to make a living at it, writing over 400 shorts and reprinting them.  A writer could do that then because so many short story magazines were available.

I always remember seeing copies of the books at my grandparents house, copies from the author.   Lou, as we knew my aunt, was less prolific, primarily focusing on short stories and working with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Lou died first, and Ernie died in 1990.  With the internet, Ernie’s publications became available to me, so I started looked for them.  I bought some short stories in both magazines and anthologies — not sure we would ever have an accurate list of what he wrote — and his books.  Then I ran across a bookseller who had a book I’d never seen and described an inscription from Ernie.  No big deal.  I’d run into autographed books before, and had one to me.

But this one was different.  Ernie had signed to Wade and Maye Hampton.  My great-grandparents.  Wade had died in the mid-60s, and Maye in the early 70s– both in California.  The book ended up on the East Coast, with a sticky glued over the name part of the inscription.  The only thing I can imagine how it got there was that when Maye died, all her belongings were given away, including this book.  It probably looked unimportant and not a family heirloom.  Someone bought it and perhaps moved to the East Coast.  Or perhaps they gave it away and someone else bought it, and maybe it traveled.  And eventually it came right back to a family member because I bought it right away!

Do you have any interesting tails about the travel of your books?

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