Journeys Through History and Literature

This is the first entry in my blog, ArmchairTravel. The purpose of this blog is to chronicle my journeys through history and literature in books from yard sales and flea markets so that others may enjoy these books as I have.

I’m the kind of guy who has to go through all the boxes of books at the church rummage sale, and even checks out the books they’re using to keep the card-table legs from sinking into the lawn. I usually pay a quarter, sometimes a dollar. Once in a blue moon I go to The Book Mill in Montague, Mass., and pay twelve dollars for a book about the ancient world.

In recent years, sadly, many of the books that belonged to World War II veterans are appearing for sale as these heroes of yesteryear pass away. Lately I’ve picked up books by Ernie Pyle, whose columns were enormously popular with WWII GIs and with the American public, Bill Mauldin, the equally popular cartoonist for “Stars and Stripes” who depicted the life of the “dogfaces” in the Infantry, Dwight Eisenhower and General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell, among many others who wrote about their experience in war.

Often I come upon a grouping of books that clearly belonged to one guy, books that all relate to the theater or theaters he was in. There will usually be some staff college textbooks and some secondary works on battles like Midway or Iwo Jima.

Once I came upon a grouping of this kind, clearly the books of a naval officer who served in several important battles in the Pacific Theater – treatises on naval warfare, memoirs of other naval officers, books about the Battle of the Coral Sea, some anti-communist books from after the war — and there, right next to None Dare Call It Treason, was a copy of Peyton Place.

I collect the works of Grace Metalious — Peyton Place and Return to Peyton Place and The Tight White Collar and, rarest of all, her last book, No Adam in Eden, which I guess didn’t sell very well. She was a breakthrough artist, powered by an indomitable will to tell her story.

Like Harriet Beecher Stowe and J.K. Rowlings, she sat down at her kitchen table and started to write and came up with not just a bestseller, but a work that altered the national consciousness and became part of the American lexicon. If you say some town reminds you of Peyton Place, everybody knows what you’re talking about. And remember, she did this at a time when it was forbidden to say the word ‘pregnant’ on television.

But why was her work side by side with John Birch and Admiral Mahan? What had possessed this hard-boiled old naval officer to buy a lurid expose of small-town New England?

I found the answer on one of the bookplates. The naval officer whose books these were was from Gilmanton Iron Works, New Hampshire. That’s Grace Metalious’ home town, the model for Peyton Place. He must have bought the book to see if he recognized any of his friends and neighbors. Or maybe he was worried that he might be in there himself. Naughty, naughty!

Coming up: some entries about Ernie Pyle’s two books, This is Your War and Brave Men, Brave Men, Bill Mauldin’s Up Front and Dwight Eisenhower’s Crusade in Europe.