Friday, November 23, 2007

Remembering David Halberstam

In the fall of 2002 David Halberstam made his only appearance at the National Book Festival, staged annually on the Mall in Washington, D.C. I had been an admirer of the author since 1972 when The Best and the Brightest appeared. It was followed shortly by The Powers That Be, a book that worked powerfully on the imagination of someone whose ambitions were to be a great journalist.

I dutifully assembled all of Halberstam’s books in my possession and toted them to the Mall to be signed. It was a rainy day, and the crowds, while still impressive, did not approach the levels of later years. I was third or fourth in line for Halberstam. When my turn came, I asked if he minded signing all my books – there were 13. In later years this would not have been possible. Diligent volunteers for the festival would have limited me to 2 or 3 books, especailly if the crowds had been large as they certainly would have been for someone of Halberstam’s stature. Washington dotes on its historians.

I don’t remember the expression on his face or his tone of voice, but Halberstam said the people behind me might mind, but he didn’t. And he signed them all. I was elated at this coup.

Later, I realized that two books I owned were not among the stack I presented to Halberstam. I was in the process of moving from my home state of Kansas to Virginia and did not have all my books with me. The two that were missing – October 1964 and Summer of ’49 – were both about baseball and were back in Topeka with other books devoted to that sport.

I now have 19 books written by Halberstam, all but five are signed. The two books on baseball; a first edition of The Powers That Be that I acquired a few years ago; The Education of a Coach, issued in 2005; and The Coldest Winter, which was issued posthumously. I could plumb the Internet for signed copies of four of those five books, yet I do not think I will. The 13 signed books represent a special day in which a much-admired author graciously honored a fan’s outrageous request.

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