Saturday, November 22, 2008

The School's Secret Stash of Science Fiction and Fantasy

When people travel a lot, they tend to leave a trail of discarded books behind them. Once the books have been read, it’s rather pointless to let them weigh down your luggage; even better, most hostels and small hotels tend to have small collections through which you can rifle, leaving your book and taking a new one. The American School, like ex-pat places the world over, also has a collection. But I’d wager that ours is quite a bit bigger than most places, given the School's long history.

One of the more significant assortments to be found in Loring Hall was acquired from the Blegen/Hill estate. I’ve mentioned the Blegen’s and the Hill’s on repeated occasions, but it’s also good to know that not only did they leave an imprint on the political and social history of the School, but they also left behind quite a bit of material culture that has been absorbed into the School's physical landscape. Part of that material culture includes an enormous collection of mystery novels, dating from the 1930s to 1940s.

The Blegen’s and the Hill’s were best friends: Carl and his wife Elizabeth, Bert and his wife Ida. They shared a house in Athens at 9 Plutarch St. and when Blegen died in 1971, he left the house and everything in it to the School. The papers within it now form a large part of the School’s Archives, and bits of their furniture and other material culture spread out from there. The mystery books made it over to Loring Hall, where they are now in the TV Room.

It’s quite a collection. I asked Bob Bridges about it last night at Ouzo, and he told me that the books were mostly collected by Elizabeth and Ida, who actually had formed a little Crime club of sorts! The titles are in themselves amazing:

But it was not until two days ago that I actually discovered the School’s really secret stash of genre books. I was across the street in the Blegen Library and stopped in the lounge on the lowest floor. A small book shelf stood in the corner, and it was to here, I discovered, that the SF books of the School had been making their way. (NB: SF = Speculative Fiction = Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror/Comics/Etc.)

I’d been wondering about them, actually. With all the books that are collected here, why were there so few science-fiction and fantasy novels? People make jokes about nerdy sci-fi fans lurking at society’s margins, but in fact these marginal people are actually quite numerous (and in today’s comic book culture, nearly the majority of those under 30). So where were the books? Again, Bob Bridge’s held the key. Apparently, there were a fair number of not only speculative fiction titles floating around, but also harlequin romances. Bob was aware that there are certain types of books that certain people do NOT like to see; it was safer, then, to move those books elsewhere, to a place where they would not offend certain sensibilities. He was right to do so: it seems the harlequin romances were thrown out a few years back. But the speculative fiction books are still there, and are in fact quite impressive, very old school, with lots of Daw Books titles. Bob says he’s been grouping them together for as long as he’s been back at the School, since about 1982. Have a look:

The Secret Stash Discovery has been a highlight for me. Perhaps I’ll see how many 1930s mysteries and 1980s SF I can get through before Christmas. And let's hope the Secret Stash, no longer secret since I've revealed it on the Internet, survives and prospers. I'll make sure to add to it as much as I can.

1 comment:

Jeremy LaBuff said...

So this is the REAL reason you're mad at the extra workload. It all makes sense now...