If you could own one book that inscribed by one famous author to another, what would it be? What association would mean the most to you, or to history? Here’s my list for Americans:
5. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Abraham Lincoln
Although the abolitionist movement had been gaining strength for decades, Stowe’s book galvanized the public to support the cause more than any other printed work. Upon meeting Stowe, Abraham Lincoln is famously said to have remarked, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”
4. Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises to F. Scott Fitzgerald
Hemingway and Fitzgerald were close friends in the ‘20s, Hemingway striving to control his envy for his successful friend and Fitzgerald trying to retain the confidence necessary to continue writing. Before The Great Gatsby, Hemingway believed that the novel form was dead. After reading Gatsby, Hemingway was convinced that it continued to thrive and produced his own first masterpiece, The Sun Also Rises.
3. T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land to Ezra Pound
American-born Eliot was already famous for his poetry before the Waste Land, but his lasting importance and influence rests primarily on this particular work. A work that, incidentally, would have looked very different without Pound, who heavily edited it. Eliot dedicated the poem to Pound, whom he called “the greater craftsman.”
2. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass to Ralph Waldo Emerson
Before publishing Leaves of Grass, Whitman had read Emerson’s essays calling for a truly American voice in literature. Whitman took up the challenge, and after publication he sent a copy of his beloved work to Emerson. Emerson’s approval of Leaves of Grass brought it to the attention of other serious critics, leading Whitman to create a second edition that quoted the great Transcendentalist on the cover.
1. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick to Nathaniel Hawthorne
It is well documented that Melville had somewhat of a literary crush on Hawthorne, particularly after The Scarlet Letter. In fact, The Scarlet Letter is what proved to Melville that a novel-length symbol could be successful. The very next year he applied it to his own writing and created what is often called the first Great American Novel.
I adore the idea of these books. Not only do they signify a moment in time when the author held that particular book, but they signify a relationship with the author. It’s a splash of the writer’s true life, in which acquaintances, admirers, friends, and family are woven together, recorded on that page for literary history.
Let’s just be honest, I love Top 5 and Top 10 lists. Not because they capture a subject or even summarize it. I love them because they cause conflict. There’s always going to be an item on a Top list you would replace, or disagree with. What association copies would you add, or remove?