A Public Appeal: Help Me Remember This Book


Our Daily Correspondent, Out of Print

nancy runs the bookmobile

Assuredly not the book in question.

I throw myself on your mercy, readers.

For some years now, I have been searching fruitlessly for a long-lost book, and I’m hoping someone out there can help me remember the title. The problem is, I have very little to go on: I know it is a paperback career romance from the late fifties or early sixties. I believe it follows the career of an event planner, or maybe an interior decorator. But it is not—I repeat, not—1964’s Weddings by Gwen, in which wedding planner Gwen Wright gets in over her head with a rich family, a dud boyfriend named Steve, and a cockamamie blackmail plot; nor is it One Perfect Rose, from the same year, in which Prill Sage redecorates a Victorian mansion. (Out of scholarly obligation, I reread both, just to make sure.)

Part of the difficulty is that there is a certain, well, formula to the bulk of these career-romance titles. The Julian Messner series—Nancy Runs the Bookmobile; Lady Lawyer; Lee Devins: Copywriter—are sober, conscientious, and informative. Young woman moves to the city, learns about career in mind-numbing detail, has a dull beau, finds satisfaction in work. In the case of the more entertaining but less educational Valentine and Avalon titles—think Dreams to Shatter (pottery) or A Measure of Love (department-store modeling)—the careers are mere backdrops to lurid and implausible romances, skeletons in closets, and Nancy Drew–style investigations.

The mystery book, which I will call Title X, also deals with a scandal subplot of some kind. But in this case, the rich family in question (there is often a rich family in the picture, with a playboy scion who briefly tempts the heroine away from a reliable steady) is concealing a completely different kind of secret: a brother whom they claim is dead. In fact, he is a midget (in the parlance of the times), and has been hidden away on an island or something with a caretaker, even though he is in his thirties and, apparently, of sound mind. At the book’s climactic dénouement, he appears in a limousine, his face “lined with cynicism and dissipation.” That may not be an exact quote, but I know both these descriptors are employed, although everything else about the book is hazy.

“The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time,” said Nietzsche. I am not claiming Title X is a great book, or even a good one. From what little I recall, it is not merely problematic but ludicrous and slightly dull as well. But now, when I look at my shelf of Career Romances for Young Moderns, it feels like something is missing. And rereading the perplexing book is not the sole advantage of the endeavor.

There is something obscurely gratifying, in this day and age, about not being able to track something down instantaneously. Just as there was a strange pathos in that, with the end of the Concorde, we were experiencing the novelty of watching technological progress regress in our lifetimes, so too is there an element of time travel to being really dead-ended by an Internet search. This is an arbitrary consolation.

If you have any leads, won’t you write them below or send them to [email protected]?