The poet Laura Sims is writing a piece about Markson and asked me to send a short blurb about my Markson Treasure Hunt: how I first heard about it, how I found all the books I did, what made me start posting scans, etc. I found it hard to be brief, so I ended up sending her this, which is certainly not a “short blurb,” but it was the best I could do. She’ll probably use a quote or two from it. I decided to post the entirety here…
Like you, I had written to David. Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress and Joyce’s Ulysses were—and still are—my two pinnacles of literature. Since Markson had the benefit of still being alive, whereas Joyce had long passed, I gave a shot to writing to him. He responded to both letters, rather quickly, but also succinctly (on those infamous plain white unlined postcards of his). I’ll always regret not writing more than those two to him. I wish I had struck up a more lengthy correspondence, as you did, but I was too worried about bugging him. When I read about the fact that his books were at the Strand (from a piece in the London Review of Books, I think), I quite literally jumped out of bed and ran down to see what I could find. I knew that others had already been searching before me, that I was late to the party, so I imagined that a number of the big authors would be picked over (the Lowrys, the Gaddises, the Joyces, etc.), though I still looked, of course. I decided I had to be clever and come up with lesser known writers that I knew influenced him. I went to Conrad Aiken (who had been mentor to Lowry, who in turn had been mentor to Markson)—found Markson’s copy of his Collected Novels, his Collected Short Stories, and Ushant. Two of those I think were signed from Aiken to Markson. And then also, of course, had Markson’s own name inscribed on the first page, as with all the books he owned. I checked out Gertrude Stein, and found nothing. But then had the foresight to look under Toklas, and was excited to see that The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas had been misfiled under her name. So I have his copy of that. What luck! I thank the god I don’t believe in for the incompetence of whichever bookseller was tasked with filing that book away. Joyce’s section in Fiction, of course, had already been checked—I have no clue if anyone found his copies of Ulysses, Portrait, or Dubliners—but I looked for Joyce in the Drama section and found Markson’s copy of Joyce’s Exiles. Even though that one contains no marginalia, it remains one of my prized possessions because it is one of my two favorite authors’ copy of one of the other of my favorite authors’ books. I found a couple of Markson’s Wittgenstein books as well (also, obviously, prized possessions).
This was all in that first hunt, I think. I was running around like a madman from section to section, trying to think of the pecking order of Markson influences. But then I had to get to work. At the time, I was working at Barnes & Noble and all this treasure hunting for Markson books had made me late for work at that lesser bookstore. I remember my managers being really upset with me when I strolled into Barnes & Noble, late for work, and with two huge bags from the Strand under my arms. You’re not supposed to promote great used bookstores at the chain stores; it makes them feel inferior. I had broken a cardinal rule. They were more mad about that than the fact that I was late. My phenomenal excuse didn’t carry any weight with them either because, sadly, no one who worked at that Barnes & Noble had ever read or even heard of David Markson. Immediately when I got off work, I went back to buy more that evening. And then every day for weeks. I went through every single book in the Strand, which most people find unbelievable. But I did, it’s true, all 18 miles or however many miles they say. And not only did I go through them once, but twice. The entire store TWICE. The reason being that they didn’t put out all his books in one go, they kept putting out new ones, so in order to be thorough you had to keep combing through the sections. So months after everyone had already known about it and thought it was over, I still found his copies of DeLillo and Vonnegut and others. He’s such an asshole to DeLillo in the margins of his copy of Mao II, and I fucking love it. “What an awful couple of pages!” appears on pg. 224. “Bullshit” appears in the margins of many of the pages of Mao II.
I searched every section they had, even the ones that seemed unlikely to contain Markson books. The Fiction section I combed through hundreds of times, obviously, but even the Sports section, the Philosophy section, the Arts section, any place I could think of that might contain hidden treasure. I honestly felt like Mel Fisher. This was my Atocha. But even more so than treasure of monetary value, each new book of his I found in the stacks felt like another letter sent to my address, with personal notes, and jokes, and insights. Finally, maybe four months later, maybe longer, the well had dried up, and I stopped finding them. I ended up with hundreds. I loved those months of searching, and was sad when there were no more books to be found. The whole Markson Treasure Hunt remains one of the highlights of my thirty years of existence. I met people, fellow mad Marksonites. I helped them find Markson books as well. Some became close friends. I would have felt bad about ending up with as many as I did if I hadn’t started the blog. It sounds lame, and maybe self-righteous, but I really felt like I was hoarding them just so I could give them to the world. I wanted to preserve these important artifacts. Maybe one day they’ll end up in a library somewhere? Who knows? But for now, I’m keeping them safe, and trying to share some scans from them with the world. It’s been a while since my last post, but I was updating it every day for over a year, and then continued to update it regularly for another year or two after that. I posted something like 450 scans, if I’m not mistaken. Surprisingly, some of my best scans I still never shared though. There is just too much to share. I’d love to collect the best scans—some of which I’ve posted, some of which I haven’t—into some sort of book, and I am looking for a way to do so, but we’ll see what comes of it…
It’s been a while since my last post. I still have so much more marginalia to share, but having three jobs in addition to trying to finish my novel is not conducive to incessant Markson posting. That said, I’ve started looking into the possibility of making a sort of coffee table book of various scans and commentary on each scan. About half of the scans in the book would be the best of the scans I’ve already posted here, and the other half would be entirely new stuff that I never got around to posting.
If anyone has any interest in helping in this project, definitely contact me. I’m looking for potential publishing companies with any interest. I also may go the kickstarter route and self-publish the thing (if no publishers are willing to take a chance on the book). There’s lots to be worked out, but I’ve definitely started moving towards finally doing something beyond the blog with the hundreds of Markson books I was able to find with a little luck and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Going through every book in the Strand’s supposed “18 miles of books” is still one of the best experiences of my life, and I will always look back on those treasure hunting days with an intense fondness. So if you have any ideas about publishing, feel free to drop me a line. Or if you just want to say: “I’d buy one if you made ‘em!” That’s always nice to hear too.
Also, side note, there’s a new book of Markson’s letters to the poet Laura Sims which will be coming out in April. This tumblr is mentioned in one of her footnotes. I’ll be interviewing Laura soon about her friendship with Markson and the book and what not. When that interview is published in April, I’ll post it here as well.