I have a generous supply of brothers all well outfitted with the Lovett sense of humor and they have provided me with what have been, so far, some of my favorite reactions to The Bookman’s Tale. I reprint them here with minimal comment, and no permission.
My youngest brother (let’s call him ‘John,” since that is his name) wrote: “Until I actually received my e copy on my Kindle last night I had thought the title was Bookman’s Tale and had, wrongly thought that the book would chronicle the misadventures of Nate Bookman the lovable building supervisor from Good Times.”
Not to be outdone, my older brother, David, claimed to find a faded clipping in this copy of The Bookman’s Tale and provided me with the following transcription:
London, June 15, 20xx
Sotheby’s has confirmed that they are in possession of a book which, if authenticated, will rock the world of letters to its foundations. It is a rare first edition of Charlie Lovett’s seminal novel The Bookman’s Tale, not to be confused with the more common but still collectible BANR edition, numerous later printings, the ubiquitous trade paperbacks, and uncountable digital and audio copies.
Shelves the world over are filled with studies, both popular and arcane, of how The Bookman’s Tale transformed our relationship with books. What started with a few book groups in North Carolina exploded into a global mania. The singular story of how this book migrated from the top of the popular culture charts to the halls of academe is well known. Brown University was the first to offer a major in Lovettiana, and The Bookman’s Tale (along with its antecedents, its critical history, and the genre it spawned) has long occupied the first place among topics for doctoral dissertations not only in English but in the social sciences as well. Its place in the history of film is far beyond the scope of this article.
Sotheby’s obtained the present copy from an antiquarian bookseller who has chosen to remain nameless for reasons of personal safety. The volume’s provenance is a trifle murky. The dealer seems to have bought the book from a self-proclaimed “book flipper” on Long Island, who in turn purchased the book on Ebay. The seller has documents indicating the Ebay merchant, recently found dead, was an itinerant scavenger who discovered the book in a thrift store in Sneedville, Tennessee, US. That is as far as it could be traced.
The book in question — rather badly worn — bears the initials “DML” on the flyleaf, and is inscribed in what appears to be the author’s hand to “David.” The inscription is dated 30 May 2013, which Sotheby’s has verified was the date of the legendary first Barnes and Noble appearance by the author, which occurred in Greensboro, North Carolina, US. This detail is a strike against the volume’s claim to authenticity as the books signed at that event would have been the “Barnes and Noble Recommends” edition. It does have the now-famous printing error on page 212, which marks it as either a true first edition, or a very clever forgery indeed.
What has bookworms worldwide wriggling out of the woodwork is the seller’s claim that this is in fact the fabled lost copy of David Lovett, apparently the author’s obscure brother, who may be the David Lovett cryptically mentioned in the acknowledgements. Much forensic work lies ahead, but if the book can be authenticated, it could revolutionize our understanding of Bookman’s, and thus change the course of civilization.
What makes the volume such a bombshell are the copious marginalia which purport to explain the source of much of the novel’s content. If the owner really was a close relative of Lovett, how much could he have known of the book’s genesis and the primordial years before its creation? Apparently quite a bit. Nearly every page of this dog-eared, wine-stained book has scrawled notes which pull back the veil and reveal the true history on which the novel is allegedly based. Characters, places, events, a plethora of (at first) seemingly minor details, and the labyrinthine bilbliomaniacal convolutions of the plot itself — all are laid bare.
Exploring these notations promises to be a rich ground for the next generation of scholars. If even a few of the revelations are true, the publishers of bestsellers like The Annotated Bookman’s Tale and Bookman’s For Dummies will be scrambling to bring out new editions. If the marginalia are broadly substantiated, academic chairs will be lost, theories debunked, claims recanted, documentaries reshot, and, scholars are whispering, credence gained by the small group of academic outsiders, heretofore dismissed as an amusing footnote in the canon of Lovett Studies, who claim that The Bookman’s Tale was not written by Charlie Lovett at all, but by another man of the same name.
Sotheby’s has not yet announced when this book will go on the block, but the sale is sure to be the stuff of fable. It has been a long time since a Gutenberg Bible or a First Folio has changed hands. This book, which has ivy-covered schools of thought quaking in their boots, promises to command a premium which could only be met by one of the very uppermost private fortunes or endowments in the world. The Library of Congress, the British Museum, and the Vatican have all expressed interest, but whether any of them can afford the book remains to be seen. The real question in this reporter’s mind is, will the winning bidder be buying the book to make it public, or to keep it secret? —B.B.
You may perhaps think my brothers are either taking The Bookman’s Tale too seriously or not seriously enough, to which I can only reply: that is exactly what its author intended.