Friday, April 20, 2007

The Book Sale

UPDATED: Beers' connection to the eugenics movement is spurious at best, so I've removed the "e" word from this post.

Every SPRing the Unitarian Church in Waterloo holds its annual book sale, an event they've been hosting ever since I was a small child. Their book collection is enormous, largely unsorted, and stacked in ways that make it difficult for even the most avid reader to find what they're looking for. I think the sale is somehow linked to the Canadian Federation of University Women, but the Unitarians get their fringe benefits too: a sprinkling of strange religious books are always to be found in the most mysterious of places.

The sale often attracts crazy people, or the guardians of crazy people. Last year a man was endlessly playing "chopsticks" on the piano. This year they'd hired young adults of dubious functionality who roamed around listening to their MP3 players. Their job seemed to consist of alternately leaning against the book tables looking bored, and lunging at you to snatch books out of your hands, saying "I'll put that away for you."

Most of the books are cheap discount self-help paperbacks, but the real gems are to be found in the "old books" section. Sometimes they have interesting handwritten inscriptions on their flyleaves, making an already interesting book even more interesting. This year I escaped with four nifty ones:
  1. "Klondike" (1958) by Pierre Berton. Vanilla asked me if I'd be looking for "Ice Lit," and indeed I was. Considering the joy I got from his "Just Add Water and Stir" collection -- and knowing that he grew up on the jolly tundra -- I figured I couldn't go wrong. The inscription: "To pop from Charlene & Frank, Christmas 1958."
  2. "I Married the Klondike" (1961) by -- you guessed it -- Laura Beatrice Berton. Owning these two books is sort of like owning the husband and wife themselves.
  3. "A Mind That Found Itself" (1927), an autobiography by Clifford Whittingham Beers. Credited as the founder of the mental hygiene movement, this promises to be a bizarre read. The inscription: "To Mrs. Lucy E. Beach, secretary of the Child Guidance Council of London, with the compliments of the author Clifford W. Beers, founder and secretary of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, 370 Seventh Avenue, New York City, January 18, 1928." So this copy is signed by Mr. Eugenics himself, a dubious treat. Looking online it seems that he was fond of signing copies of his books, many of which go for an excess of $150 USD. This copy is pretty ratty, though it does include an odd printed addendum pasted in the back.
  4. "The Guide Handbook" (1965), the prep guide for Girl Guide Recruits. I was a bit confused by the chapter headings "To spread and Mount," "Stalking," "What To Do If Clothing Catches Fire," "Burping," and "Diagonal Lashing," but I'm sure it will all be clear in time. The inscription: "Barbara L. Gratton, May 4/66, 7 Riverside Drive W." which has been clumsily pasted over with a printed address label saying "Hayman, 141 Woodhaven Rd., Kitchener, Ont, N2C 1V2."
The third book is by far the most curious, especially since it's from the "MENTAL WELFARE LIBRARY," according to the notice pasted inside the front cover:
THIS LIBRARY is intended for the use of mental health workers and teachers of defective children. Subscription: 10/' per annum [postage extra.] For more information apply to:-- MISS EVELYN FOX, Hon. Sec., Central Association for Mental Welfare, 24, Buckingham Palace Road, London S.W.1.
The address has been crossed out and a new stamp added: "39 Queen Anne Street, London, W.1, Tel: WELbeck 1272." I bet that phone number doesn't add up anymore. There's even a sign-out sheet on the following page, covering dates from 22.10.36 to 18.9.47. The notice at the bottom says:
This book must be returned within one month of date of issue. It may be re-entered for a second month, on application, if no other demand for it has been made. If retained without permission, a fine of 6d. will be imposed for each week or portion of a week in excess of the month.


George said...

I have found no evidence that Clifford Whittingham Beers was involved with the eugenics movement. In the Wikipedia article, an anonymous poster added a sentence about eugenics last March, which was removed.

Adam Thornton said...

It looks like you're right, George! It seems that Beers' "eugenics connection" has to do with the agencies he founded getting eventually steered in that direction...but don't know for sure. Maybe when I get around to reading the book...

Thanks for the correction!