Today is my birthday, so it seems a good opportunity to answer the question I have heard many times over the years—“What is your favorite book in your collection?” I invite you to try answering this question. It’s not easy. Not, perhaps, in a league with “Which of your children is your favorite?” but still . . .
The easy answer is that my favorite book is the one I am handling at the moment or reading, or using in some useful way. The addict’s answer is that my favorite book is the one I just bought. I have lots of books in my collection that hold meaning for me, some of which are quite valuable. But when I consider the combination of personal meaning, a connection to my own work and life, and that elusive quality called “collectibility,” I usually come up with the same book.
It’s not that much to look at. It’s an 1886 first edition of the facsimile of Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript book Alice’s Adventures Under Ground—the story that he expanded into Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The cover is worn and stained, or as I prefer to think of it, shows signs of love and frequent readings. On it’s own, the book might sit on a dealer’s shelf for a long time without attracting attention. What makes it special is the inscription, and to understand the inscription you need to know a few things about me.
1) My first solo book, published in 1990, was Alice on Stage, and chronicled the first professional stage production of Alice in Wonderland, adapted by Henry Savile Clarke.
2) I worked for twelve years as a children’s playwright, cranking out 20 plays and working as technical director and set designer for all those productions. Nineteen of those plays are now published—so children’s plays are pretty important to me.
3) In case you hadn’t guessed from items 1 & 2, I am a big time theatre geek.
4) And, of course, my collection is centered on the works of Lewis Carroll.
The inscription in this well-worn copy of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground reads:
Henry A. Hetherington
As a memento of his
Having taken part in
“Alice in Wonderland”
written by H. Savile Clarke
and first produced
So, it may not look like much from the outside, but if I had to pick a book from my collection that fits me to a tee, this would be it.
What’s your favorite?