Friday, September 11, 2009

Howard Hughes' Private Library and Me

Another library story...

TG fans have done a great job of sharing their library stories, but I want to add another story from an unplumbed category type: the private library.

Some years ago, I took a weekend at the Xanadu Beach Resort and Marina in the Bahamas. We arrived around 10 pm, and while surveying the lobby I saw a room behind a gate –the kind used to lock stores in a shopping mall. It was loaded with book stacks. It turns out that this was Howard Hughes’ private library from when he was ensconced at the hotel (which was quite different at the time.)

The front desk person explained that it was open to the public from 10 am until 5 pm.


Billionaire and recluse Howard Hughes’ personal library, and I could visit it.

What could be there? The original Beowulf? The Magna Carta? Mark Twain’s first editions? Who knows?

Later that evening, after leaving the bar I peered through the gate and could make out gold-leafed book spines. Hundreds of them. I shook the gate to make sure it was really locked because if it wasn’t, I would certainly enter and see the literary treasures bought by this loony, but rich and impetuous man. Did he bring back ancient texts from Japan? Old volumes of the Kama Sutra, its lurid pictures faded from age.

The next day, I arose on time to be the first patron. I headed straight for the gold leafed books I had seen the night before.

Pardon the cliché, but I could not believe my eyes.

Reader’s Digest condensed books. Are you kidding me? The richest and one of the most worldly men of his time bought hundreds of these tomes? Couldn’t be. Maybe these were for the hotel guests to borrow and read on the beach. “Where is the real HH library?,” I asked the concierge. I guess I should have been tipped off by the fact that it was wide open with no security guard, keeping watch over the medieval bibles I thought would be there.

Yes, that was it.

I walked to the tiki bar, head down, and I caught myself smirking at the absurdity of the morning. Either I actually muttered the following or I thought it; I don’t recall. “Money can’t buy taste.”

Once for several months Hughes hid in a darkened screening room living on chocolate bars and drinking milk. There is no record of what, if anything he read.

I’m guessing they weren’t first editions.

Larry Kahaner

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