Margaretta Colt has written for us before about her days as the female boss of a military bookstore—a male-oriented business (“A Woman’s Place: Or, Who the Boss?”). The Military Bookman, closed in 2003, lives on in her memoir, Martial Bliss. The odd collectors she encountered led her to her own odd collections, among them lists of laugh-out-loud-ridiculous book titles—and “Mail Call.”—Ed.
In our store, in an 1890s brownstone on East 93rd Street, the only space for a bulletin board seemed to be in the bathroom, over the toilet. There we posted complimentary, strange, outrageous, and funny letters and a few apropos cartoons.
The New Yorker used to have, in the small spaces at the bottoms of columns, a category entitled “Letters We Didn’t Finish Reading.” Among ours were a number of book offers and promotions.
* “Adios Hollywood . . . There’s never been a Hollywood memoir quite like this one—but then, there’s never been a movies star quite like Dick, Dog of Oaxaca. Once a humble Mexican dog, he was discovered under a restaurant table, and his legendary career was launched . . . “
• “World War II was raging with imperious propensity. Hans had no choice but to go with the maddening upsurge. , ,
• “You’ve never read a book like Bedpan Commando . . .”
• “The How-To Book of Stagecoach Building: Yes, the book is now complete . . .”
• Lost in translation: “That of us published magazine Militaria already appears since 1971, from number 2/2000 also in English! The enclosed issue get you gratuitously. Its conception of factual-serious documentation is unopposed . . .”
•From 1983: “Limited Edition. Badges and Distinctive Insignia of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Vol. 1. This is the ultimate Middle East Military Insignia reference book . . ..”
• The Charge of the Mouse Brigade. “Stunning picture book, commemorating the Charge of the Light Brigade, in which the protagonists are depicted as mice and cats.”
* “We write to inform you that it is our desire to represent, market and distribute your military publications in Nigeria.”
Bizarre and irrelevant queries were legion. The oddest made it to the bulletin board. It was a changing assortment, with some perennial favorites. The letter of request for a book on toothpick holders still stands as one of the classics.
• “Tell me everything about yourself. I am a HITLER hobbyist.”
• “I’m interested in getting a copy of Nautical Designs in Needlepoint, which I’ve heard is out-of-print . . . ”
* A postcard with, below the return address ,“Honor Above All Else” and stamped across the bottom, WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO AMELIA EARHART.
* From West Malaysia, May 2002: “I am too sorry to tell you that I had sandwiched this 1994 catalog in the old book case and found out just recently . . . I got at least 60 books to order from you . . . ”
* “I am interested in locating soldiers’ ghost stories from the Civil War . . .”
• “I have enclosed a picture of a 40MM gun crew. I am interested in purchasing a book that has the picture in it. I have not seen the book, but have been told about it . . . . I am the sailor wearing headphones and standing near the base of the gun barrels.”
• Music to a book dealer’s ear: “I want these books at any cost.” On a printed and illustrated postcard listing aviation wants, a penned HAVE MONEY. But, from an inmate: “Please waive all costs as I am on a very limited budget.”
• “Could you folks recommend a book that gives a good overview of the use of homing pigeons in WW2? Especially after D-Day, in the push to the Seigfried [sic] Line? I know nothing about military pigeons and am just now getting into WW2 history, so the book should not be too specialized . . .”
• “Attached is the title page from a book you have on reserve for me—NAVY MAVERICK: Uriah Phillips Levy. Also do you have a list you could send me of other books or anyone else with the last name of Levy?” (The writer was not named Levy.)
• “GREETINGS IN THE NAME OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, SON OF THE FATHER, RISEN AND COMING AGAIN. AMEN! AMEN! The Navy Department, Libray [sic] referred me to you . . . ”
* “I would love to get a book . . . About World War 1 ace Frank Luke.. . . I’m a Mormon and would like to know if there are any other books about Mormon aces. . . If there are any Mormon General & Admirals I’d be interested also, OK?”
• “We had a break in at our house and the book Mein Kampf from Adolf Hitler in leatherback signed by Adolf Hitler was stolen…”
• “Do you have anything worthwhile concerning the Franco-Prussian War 1870-1871?”
• “I am an collector of very old and original Documents of Witchcraft . . . ”
• “I have an old Bible. What is it worth?”
* Requests for: Irish fairy tales—Muhammad Ali—feltmaking—nude painting —in one letter, Martin Luther, tropical fish, and geology—Nadia Comenici . . .
Sometimes customers would be so long in the bathroom, one felt a bit uneasy— then they would emerge laughing and say, “I love the one about the . . . ” It was most often this, the all-time winner:
From Prisoner 09202 at Florida State Prison:
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing it to you because, a few days ago, I was reading a newspaper name The New York Times Book Review and I saw your announcement on it. Please I would like to know if with by there you I can get a book name
The Anarchist’s Cook Book
If you have this, please let me know as soon as possible how much it cost and how to pay it by money order or send money . . . never mind the price.
I way your reply as soon as possible. Thank you.
P.S. If you have it in Spanish, it much better.
By Deborah Harkins. Oh, that contralto sidling into view singing confidently while flourishing a huge fish! Once again, part of the fun of watching a video like this is trying to figure out which of the customers eyeing the veggies is going to burst into song.
By Susan Klatsky Cohen. Totally caught up in the story of the sweethearts in “Splendor in the Grass,” I wasn’t prepared for them to end up with other people. As it turned out, I couldn’t stop crying, and had to be escorted from the theater by the manager.