Yesterday’s review of Bound to Last got me looking around my own bookshelves to see which old favorite I would have written about had I been one of those selected to contribute to that collection. And, just as many of the actual contributors did, I chose a book to which my strong emotional attachment has absolutely nothing to do with its actual contents. The book is worthless now to everyone but me (and since its cover price was a whopping sixty cents when I bought it, brand spanking new, it never has had much value). The pages are yellow and a bit brittle now, but my inscription in blue ink looks like it was written yesterday: “Basic Training, May 1968.”
In May 1968, I was a little over half way through Army Basic Training in Fort Campbell, KY, but had managed to earn a weekend pass that gave me enough time to take a bus ride of approximately fifty miles to Nashville for a much-needed two-day break. Let’s just say that what happened in Nashville stays in Nashville.
But here’s the important part of the story. Before I boarded the bus for the return leg to Fort Campbell, I spotted a rack of cheap paperbacks for sale. Leisure reading material was forbidden to us in basic training, and I was well aware that I would have to lose the book before returning to the barracks area. But I couldn’t resist the urge to read; I needed a book, any book. That’s when I noticed the eye-catching edition of Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes pictured here. As you can see, it’s the movie-tie-in volume for the very first Planet of the Apes movie. All I knew is that it was very short (128 pages) and that I might actually have a chance to finish it on the bus.
Of course, that didn’t happen because I fell asleep only thirty or forty pages into the book. I decided, however, to take a chance on sneaking Planet of the Apes into the barracks so that I could sneak-read it later. Those of you who have had military basic training know there are not many hiding places to be found in the few feet of living space allocated to trainees but, somehow, the book survived basic training and I eventually ended up bringing it home with me – where it still occupies a thin little slot on one of my bookshelves.
Looking at the cover now, I can’t help pointing out the quote from a New York newspaper saying that “This is easily Boulle’s best novel since Bridge over the River Kwai.” That has to be one of the most bizarre comparisons I’ve ever read on a book cover. But, as it turns out, I got way more for my sixty cents than I ever dreamed I would get. You just never know.