I wonder how many book discovery moments folks remember. I have a few memories of “big moments” — finding that book you’ve been looking for for years, or perhaps, finding a book you didn’t know existed. For me, one of the most memorable was the afternoon I took James Thurber’s classic My Life And Hard Times down off the bookshelf in what used to called Gryphon Books on the upper west side of Manhattan.
Although I enjoyed browsing all parts of the store, I would always head right up the stairs to the second level, then look to the right at the section where the Thurber books were shelved. The edge of the copy you see below immediately got my attention — I’d never seen a first edition copy before. The price, $35.00, was well out of my comfort range (I was used buying books costing no more than $10.00). But this was, after all, for me, the greatest Thurber book, other than The Thurber Carnival (which contains the work in My Life And Hard Times). But here was the real deal — as it was issued by Harper & Bros. in 1933, with that beautiful mustard-color cover, and the Thurber cover drawing (a composite of various illustrations within).
The book will always remain the anchor Thurber book in the Spill library. If he hadn’t written My Life And Hard Times I don’t know for certain that Thurber’s view of his world would’ve taken me as completely as it did. His drawings have always been my jet fuel, but his writing in this book, and yes, the actual copy of the book is a sort of security blanket as I move through my life and times.