In the beginning, sometimes he left messages in the books. Then, he died.
My favorite living author no longer of the living.
David Markson, the talented writer of numerous literary masterpieces, died on June 4th, 2010. Soon after his death, in accordance with his wishes, his entire collection of books was donated to The Strand (supposedly his favorite place in the world). After this fact was inadvertently discovered by Annecy Liddell, who stumbled upon Markson’s copy of Don DeLillo’s White Noise in the stacks, it became a sort of underground NYC literature-lover exercise to scour the stacks of The Strand for books the man once owned. For a couple months, here and there, one could see, if one knew to look, Markson Treasure Hunters, as I call us, searching the inside front covers of books for that beautiful signature: Markson. Or: David M. Markson. Or: Markson NYC. Or: Markson London 1967. Or: etc. etc.
After being written up in the London Review of Books by Alex Abramovich, the Markson Treasure Hunt was even mentioned on the websites of Newsweek, NPR, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times. For a writer whose work has remained underappreciated, it seemed like a small (but nonetheless satisfying) victory. Perhaps this is the beginning of his posthumous fame. After all, he did supposedly tell his daughter that he was the type of author who would not be famous during his lifetime but would perhaps be recognized after his death. Like Keats. Like Kafka. Discussions on Markson Treasure Hunting popped up in various places all over the web. Authors like Christopher Sorrentino joined in discussions online regarding what should be done with an author’s library. A Facebook group was soon created to reunite the books, though that dream seems to have died—perhaps rightly so—and the page has turned into a space for the small group of like-minded Markson readers to post what books they found in the stacks to the only people they “know” who would care about such strange trinkets: other mad Marksonites.
Though owning any book once in the possession of a beloved writer is a rather cool thing in and of itself, the aspect of this treasure that so enthralls these mad Marksonites—myself included—is the fact that Markson wrote in a large number of these books. In some maybe there’s nothing more than his inscription and a checkmark or two, but in others he seems to have whole dialogues with the text in the margins. Is he talking to the author? Is he talking to himself? Is he talking to some future reader who would inevitably pick up these books once he was dead and they were donated to The Strand in accordance with his wishes? Is he talking to me? To you?
The ability to gaze into the private literary life of one of the great unsung literary heroes of our day and see him reacting to what he reads is a unique pleasure (so rarely afforded to us). And since Markson’s writing was so informed by his reading—especially his late tetralogy (The Notecard Quartet, as those last four novels have been called) which is filled wholly with the cultural detritus he’d pick up from his voracious reading—it is more than a mere delight to read Markson reading, it is indispensable to any study of the man and his work.
The Strand is pretty much out of any Markson-owned books now, the hunt is officially over. Not too long ago I was told by a worker at The Strand that he is fairly positive that I own more than double the amount of Markson-owned books of any other Markson Treasure Hunter. I have around 250 or so of his books. And here, once a day, I plan to share some of his marginalia. Please join me in reading Markson reading…