The one that didn’t get away at the Tal­bot County Free Li­brary

Sunday Star - - CROSSWORD -

Of the truly great books, there are two kinds that drive me mad: those I have no hope of ever reading be­cause they will be writ­ten af­ter I’m gone and those I have lit­tle hope of reading be­cause they lan­guish undis­cov­ered some­where on the li­brary’s shelves.

Th­ese last are the ones that re­ally get to me. I know they’re out there, in un­told num­bers, but there is no way of know­ing what they look like, where they hide or if I shall ever find them. And so, ever hope­ful and slightly des­per­ate, I haunt our li­brar y’s stacks and, from time to time, even af­ter all th­ese years, come across a jewel ev­ery­one else has passed over.

But the stacks aren’t the only place one can find trea­sure at the li­brary. Day in and day out the gen­er­ous peo­ple of Tal­bot County do­nate books, CDs and DVDs to the li­brar y’s on­go­ing book sale. And what they do­nate ... well, trust me, “There’s gold in them thar hills!”

Re­cently avail­able in our Eas­ton sale: a hard­cover copy of Thomas Fried­man’s “The World Is Flat” (list price $30), the 1913 edi­tion of the encyclopedic Birds of Amer­ica (Carolina Para­keets have yet to go ex­tinct), and a gor­geously il­lus­trated cof­fee ta­ble book on John Singer Sar­gent (list price $85)—all of them in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion and priced, as all our books are, at only $2 or less.

A few years back, a bird­ing friend of mine, vis­it­ing our St. Michaels branch sale, paid 50 cents for a copy of Peter­son’s 1934 “A Field Guide to the Birds.” When he got home, he dis­cov­ered it was a first edi­tion, and it was signed by the au­thor. The next day, he sold it on eBay for $350. So, need­less to say, when­ever I get a chance, I comb through the do­na­tions, hop­ing against hope to find some­thing truly re­mark­able.

Not too long ago, I hit pay dirt: an 1893 trans­la­tion of “The Mem­oirs of Baron de Mar­bot.” Yes, I know, I’d never heard of him ei­ther. But the book’s clear an­tiq­uity (stip­pled red leather bind­ing, fron­tispiece litho­graph of the baron pro­tected by a page of frail, slightly foxed tis­sue) caught my eye.

Turns out the good baron, be­fore he was a baron, served as aide de camp dur­ing the Napoleonic Wars to sev­eral of France’s most il­lus­tri­ous mar­shals. Turns out aides de camp, at a time be­fore ra­dio and ef­fec­tive sem­a­phore, were used by mar­shals as run­ners, sent into the thick of things to re­lay orders to those al­ready en­gaged.

Need­less to say, th­ese men tended to die young. Mar­bot didn’t (though he did, over the course of a re­mark­able ca­reer, sus­tain a num­ber of sav­age wounds). Which means that, al­most in­evitably, the man was present at many of the cru­cial turn­ing points in the great bat­tles of the early 19th cen­tury — Auster­litz, Ey­lau and Jena among oth­ers. And not only was he present, he was privy to the in­ten­tions of the gen­eral of­fi­cers in­volved.

What makes this all the bet­ter is that Mar­bot is a fine writer with an eye for the telling de­tail: the horse that liked to bite, the mar­shal who liked the ladies, the dev­as­ta­tion wreaked upon pros­per­ous towns by pass­ing ar­mies, the new and ter­ri­ble ef­fects of massed ar­tillery.

And so it was that — for a cou­ple of bucks — my mind was treated to a first-hand ac­count of the Napoleonic wars. More than two cen­turies af­ter the events them­selves, can­nons thun­dered, sabers clashed, im­pe­rial stan­dards were borne aloft, and a bat­tle-stained tri­col­ore — re­lent­less, ap­par­ently in­vin­ci­ble — marched once more into the fray.

I love the serendipity of reading. Not long af­ter I fin­ished the baron’s work, I came across three sen­tences in Vir­ginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dal­loway” in which Clarissa re­flects, vaguely, on the pas­sage of time, the way in which life seems to con­tract as one ages: “Nar­rower and nar­rower would her bed be. The can­dle was half burnt down and she had read deep in Baron Mar­bot’s mem­oirs. She had read late at night of the re­treat from Moscow.”

I’m 67 now, and my op­tions have nar­rowed con­sid­er­ably, but as an old beer com­mer­cial once ad­vised, “You have to reach for all the gusto you can!” I will never give up my search for the trea­sure I know — I ab­so­lutely know — lies hid­den in plain sight on ev­ery shelf of the Tal­bot County Free Li­brary. It keeps me happy. It keeps me alive. I thank the good Lord and the peo­ple of Tal­bot County for the ex­is­tence of this won­der­ful, mag­i­cal place.

Oh, and by the way, the Friends of the Li­brary will hold their big an­nual book sale in sup­port of the li­brary be­gin­ning at 9 a.m. this Fri­day, Oct. 12, in our Eas­ton branch, and run­ning through till 3 p.m. Satur­day. Most of the books in their sale will sell for only $1, and pa­per­backs will be go­ing for just 25¢.

The Friends will be ac­cept­ing do­na­tions for their sale Tues­day, Oct. 9, through Wed­nes­day, Oct. 10, at the Eas­ton li­brary. Mem­bers of the Friends will get first dibs on their sale’s good­ies at a pre­view party from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Thurs­day, Oct. 11. You can join the Friends at the door if you’re not al­ready a mem­ber.

Mem­ber or not, I hope to see you at the sale — you know I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

BILL PEAK

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