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Vacation House Library: A Slide Show

We’re in soggy Great Barrington, Mass. (or, as a local bumper sticker has it, “Pretty Good Barrington”) out in the Berkshires this week, an annual weeklong getaway with my spouse’s family.

My father-in-law has rented the same Airbnb for us for the last three years, so we’ve gotten to know the house pretty well. For two days, thanks to the hurricane, (Henri Ennui? sorry, sorry) we’ve been shut up in this house, which has allowed me to devote even more attention than usual to its curiously-stocked built-in bookshelves.

Scroll to the end for a partial love story!

The Standards

Of course, there’s a good seven or eight shelf-feet of your standard Dad Thrillers.

(Last year here I read Lee Child’s The Affair, my introduction to Child’s unlikely ex-military drifter/superhero vigilante, Jack Reacher).

But we’re not limited to escapist vengeance fantasy. We can read escapist vengeance history, too:

Also in paperback!

Fortunately, in the frontispieces of the hard covers, you can get brief precis of Sir Winston’s argument in each volume:

Also included in this treasure trove: three of Churchill’s four-volume History of the English-Speaking Peoples, two volumes of which appear to be first editions.


And speaking of Literature by World Leaders:


These shelves also feature stretches of what I would call “Ignored Section of Used Bookstores”:

The Reference Works

In case the children discover that they have to do a report on, say, the Taj Mahal, they can consult either the complete run 1988 World Book Encyclopedia or a partial set of the 1968 edition of Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Reference Encyclopedia, which features this full-color rendering of that “noted example of Moslem (sic) architecture.”

The Surprises

Two of Joan Didion’s … novels?

Also, there’s an original edition of Oakley Hall’s western Warlock which I have (shout out to Seth Notes) in the linked New York Review Books Classics reissue. (Not including photo because the Substack CMS tells me we’re nearing email length limit).

The Love Story

It begins, as so many love stories do, with Spencer Johnson’s mega-bestselling business advice book/cloying and subliterate capitalist parable Who Moved My Cheese?

Inside, is this card:

The scene: the day before Halloween, 2001. Three weeks earlier, U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan, They might be there for as much as another three weeks. Jen sent Jon a card — either with the Spencer Johnson book or he was reading it and tucked the card inside — inscribed with a pretty standard message here. But, if we look on the opposite inside flap, the plot has thickened:

“I’m not about to do anything to ruin my chance of spending the rest of my life with you!” is one of those statements that raises more questions than are answered by the statement.

So, what happened? Speculation welcome!

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