Bookworm: History and treasure; famous fathers

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“The Hunt for History”

  • By Nathan Raab
  • c. 2020, Scribner
  • $30, $39.99 Canada; 251 pages

Burn. Toss. Recycle. Deal with later. It was easy to go through that box of papers you found because most of it went in the first three categories, junk, junk, trash, and lots of it. And then something caught your eye: a signature, a date, a real find or a good fake. The question is, as in the book "The Hunt for History" by Nathan Raab, what's it worth?

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It's the rare person whose heart doesn't race a little at the discovery of a box of random ephemera. We've been taught well by success stories on Antiques Roadshow but for Nathan Raab, the lessons came from his father.

“The Hunt for History” author Nathan Raab.

His dad, he says, "was born a collector" and a lawyer by trade until his love for history and historical odds and ends spurred him to start a small business selling rare documents and autographs. Knowing the provenance of an item was essential, as was authentication, and Raab's father let Raab do some of that legwork. Soon Raab, who started as a child collecting autographs of people he wrote to, joined the family business.

Even though he'd been doing it for much of his life, becoming a rare document dealer had a learning curve.

Raab has to have, first of all, handwriting analysis skills, knowledge of paper and ink, and a good head for dates. He must be aware of possible legalities. There are times when finding a gem means sifting through junk, and he often has competition on that. Finally, he sometimes has mere minutes to determine the rarity of a document, whether it's salable, and how much it's worth.

“The Hunt for History” by Nathan Raab.

The job has its perks, though: Raab has held paper in his hands that was touched by geniuses, philosophers, and founders. He's solved mysteries, read drafts of speeches and thoughts of great men, listened to shocking historical accounts, and recovered tattered documents that were destined for the dump. And he left intact a secret that a great man would've wanted held.

You feel like heading for the attic now, don't you? That box of Grandma's papers suddenly calls, and for a valid reason: "The Hunt for History" whets your interest.

You'll never see yellowed paper or musty magazines the same again after author Nathan Raab explains why you should look thrice at something that seems old – and yet, pay heed to the caution he offers. Just because something's aged doesn't mean it's inherently valuable, as antique lovers know and Raab proves, but with tantalizing possibilities left intact. Some of the most intriguing finds he writes about, in fact, were items that someone deemed worthless, and the thrill of their hunt is here for readers to envy and desire for themselves.

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There's history in this book, of course – enough to satisfy someone who grabs it merely for that reason, though it takes a backseat to that which speaks to the heart of a treasure-hunter, picker, or heir with a box of paper. If that's you, then go ahead: toss "The Hunt for History" by your bedside for tonight.

“To Me, He Was Just Dad: Stories of Growing Up with Famous Fathers” author Joshua David Stein.

“To Me, He Was Just Dad: Stories of Growing Up with Famous Fathers”

  • By Joshua David Stein
  • c. 2020, Artisan Books
  • $22.95, $32.95 Canada; 192 pages

When you were growing up, your Dad was called many different names.

His boss sometimes used his last one. He was "Mister" to the kid next door, and "Buddy" to the guy at the gas station; Mom called him one thing, Grandma called him another. And yet, as in the new book "To Me, He Was Just Dad" by Joshua David Stein, he seemed to like your choice the best.

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Growing up, you thought your daddy was the fastest, the strongest, the smartest man alive. If something needed fixing or making, he was your guy. Everybody knew your Pops – and what if that was because he was famous?

“To Me, He Was Just Dad: Stories of Growing Up with Famous Fathers” by Joshua David Stein.

Joshua David Stein and his colleagues at Fatherly asked that question of more than three dozen children of notable dads whose names were in the news, sometimes daily for a while. People saw their fathers' public faces – but what were those Dads like in private?

Habiba Alcindor remembers spending summers with her dad, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and trying "to play ... basketball with him, but he wouldn't let us get the ball."

Samuel L. Jackson's daughter says Jackson is "a big nerd," while Garry Trudeau's son recalls the awe he felt when inside his father's studio. Evel Knievel's son was warned never to be a chip off the ol' block, while Bruce Lee's son says that his father has been absent for years but is still a guiding force.

Brandon Jenner's "Dad remained distant for much of my life." Pablo Escobar's son admits that his father was "100 percent responsible for his crimes," but he was also "a wonderful father." Lucion Gygax writes of his dad, the game-maker who held many jobs in order to take care of his family. Erin Davis remembers the honor of playing onstage with his father, Miles, and being treated as a peer.

And Jim Sullivan writes of a mystery solved and a shocking, heartbreaking truth: the father he never knew was also a Father.

There's a lot to like about "To Me, He Was Just Dad," starting with the length of its offerings: the tales in here are each about three pages long and ultra-to-the-point.

This makes them very no-nonsense and that's great for readers who don't want fluff. Just FYI, though: this wide variety of succinctly-told tales stands out, in part, because author Joshua David Stein includes essays that are less-than-complimentary. That should tell you firmly that this book is not a particularly sunny paean to fatherhood; instead, it's sometimes emotionally raw, funny, sometimes a bit on the competitive side, and sometimes an awful lot sad. Even so, those warts absolutely belong in this book, as an underscore, to balance it, and to keep it from becoming needlessly saccharine.

Don't misunderstand: it's still a sweet book; still a great gift for kids over 25 or Dads of any age; still a quick, enjoyable read. It's just a little sharp sometimes, and that's a good thing. "To Me, He Was Just Dad" is great for pops, papa, daddy, or whatever you call him.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.