David Bruce: Books Anecdotes

• In a war, libraries and books can be destroyed. Knowing that, Alia Muhammad Baker, the chief librarian of the Central Library in Basra, Iraq, worried about the entry of the armies led by the Americans and the British into Iraq in a successful effort to topple the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein. In the library were books in English, books in Arabic, and a Koran written in Spanish. Also in the library were manuscripts that were hundreds of years old, and in the library is a book about the Prophet Muhammad that dates from about the year 1300. In early April 2003 the British came into Basra, and Ms. Baker determined to save the books. She ended up saving approximately 30,000 books, which was about 70 percent of the library’s collection. She mourns the books that were destroyed before she could move them: “It was like a battle when the books got burned. I imagined that those books, those history and culture and philosophy books, were crying, ‘Why, why, why?’” She points out, “In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was ‘Read.’” Before the war started, she tried but failed to get permission from the governor of Basra to move the books to safety. When the war started, an antiaircraft gun was placed on the library’s roof, making it a military target. Ms. Baker began smuggling books out of the library, placing them in her car, and taking them home where they would be safe. On 6 April 2003 British soldiers entered Basra, and she became even more worried about the books, especially with looting going on in the city. By then, government and military officials had abandoned the library. Next door to the library was a restaurant: the Hamdan. She asked one of the owners for help. Looters had taken away the library’s carpets, lights, and furniture, and she wanted to save the books. Mr. Muhammad said, “What could I do? It is the whole history of Basra.” Mr. Muhammad, his brothers, and his employees helped to move books from the library, over a seven-foot-high fence, and into the restaurant. Hussein Muhammad al-Salem al-Zambqa, a shopkeeper, said, “The books related to Saddam Hussein, we left them.” Iraqis heard about what was going on, and they helped, including some Iraqis who were illiterate. Mr. al-Zambqa said, “The people who carried the books, not all of them were educated. Some of them could not write or could not read, but they knew they were precious books.” It is fortunate that they moved as many books as they did because the Central Library burned down. Once Basra grew calm, Ms. Baker and her husband had the books moved to their house and entrusted some books to friends and library employees. In 2004, the library was rebuilt and Ms. Baker again became chief librarian.

• Lynn Peril, publisher of the zine Mystery Date, loves books. Her parents read to her frequently when she was very young. Ms. Peril says, “I was never taught to read; I simply woke up one day and discovered I could. I remember going downstairs and telling my mother, ‘Hey, Mom—I can read!’” Her uncle lived surrounded by books. After he died, and when her aunt moved out of the house, her aunt let all the nephews and nieces take the books they wanted. Ms. Peril got a lot of first editions in excellent condition, often with dust jackets, because whenever an author such as Vladimir Nabokov, Flannery O’Connor, or Eugene O’Neill came out with a new book, her uncle would quickly buy a copy and read it. She reads the books, and she enjoys going to an antiquarian bookseller near where she lives, looking at the shelves, and saying, “Hey, I have that book.”

• Eric Blair completed a manuscript he titled A Scullion’s Diary, about his travels as a tramp, but it was rejected frequently, including by such luminaries as T.S. Eliot, and he gave up on getting it published. Therefore, he gave it to a friend, Mabel Fierz, and told her to keep the paper clips but to get rid of the manuscript. Fortunately, Mabel was interested in literature and writers, and she gave it to a literary agent, Leonard Moore, who agreed to represent Mr. Blair. The manuscript was published as Down and Out in Paris and London, and Mr. Blair took the pseudonym George Orwell and wrote Animal Farmand 1984. By the way, the manuscript of Animal Farmwas nearly destroyed in a bombing attack on London by Germany in World War II. Fortunately, Mr. Blair retrieved the manuscript from the wreckage left by a bomb.

• When J.K. Rowling wrote her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, her agent sent it to Bloomsbury Publishing, where an editor named Barry Cunningham wanted to publish the book. However, he needed to get the permission of the company’s directors to do so. A colleague of his, Rosemund de la Hay, came up with an idea to get the company’s directors to consider the book carefully. They enclosed a package of Smarties candy with each Harry Pottermanuscript that they sent to the company’s directors. Because the Smarties Prize is awarded to the best children’s book published in Great Britain each year, this was a way of indicating that they thought that the book was good enough to win that prize. In fact, after the book was published, it did win the Smarties Prize.

• Some people don’t understand punctuation, as author Judy Blume discovered when she found her book Are You There, God? It Me, Margaret, in a bookstore in the religion section. She told the bookstore employee, “That book doesn’t belong with the Bibles!” The employee said, “Yes, it does.” To prove that the book belonged with the Bibles, the bookstore employee read from the copy on the jacket of the book: “Margaret Simon: twelve chats with God.” Actually, the copy on the jacket said, “Margaret Simon, twelve, chats with God.”

• He who is able to write a book and does not write it is as one who has lost a child.” — Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav.

• “Should not the Society of Indexers be known as Indexers, Society of, The?”—Keith Waterhouse.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved



John Ford’s The Broken Heart: A Retelling, by David Bruce


William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure:A Retelling in Prose, by David Bruce


Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist:A Retelling in Prose


David Bruce’s Smashwords Bookstore: Retellings of Classic Literature, Anecdote Collections, Discussion Guides for Teachers of Literature, Collections of Good Deed Accounts, etc. Some eBooks are free.


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