a 17

If my days were rated on a scale of 1-10, yesterday was a 17.

I woke in New Haven, CT, at The Study hotel, quite a nice place. (Sleek nice as opposed to cozy nice.) The Study’s ‘theme’ is books. They partnered with The Strand bookstore in Manhattan to come up with a list of 100 titles everyone should read. At The Study, you can buy any of the books on the list—or the entire set of 100. I asked the desk clerk if he’d ever sold anyone the complete set. He looked surprised and answered, “I’ve sold five or six sets today alone.”

Pretty good place to start the day.

After a little exercise and a shower, I had a long phone chat with pal Julia Durango. We discussed our upcoming trip to Peru. (Note the casual delivery of that line….) Then I set off from the hotel into the glorious spring weather. I was headed for the library, and was hopeful that I’d find a quick bite to eat along the way.

What I found was three street-food carts in a row, all selling South American food. Talk about serendipity! I had an arepa (sweet corn & mozzarella) with pork, fresh salsa, rice & beans and fried plantains.

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Really delicious. Five bucks.

Then I went into Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library. I’ve been reading books set in Peru (see above casual statement) and learned only last week that Hiram Bingham’s archives are held at the Sterling. Bingham was (probably… arguably) the first explorer to lay eyes on Machu Picchu. In the Sterling reading room, three boxes awaited me; they contained Bingham’s letters and journals for the Yale Peruvian Expedition of 1911.

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The frontispiece is written in ink, quite legible, but the entries themselves are in pencil.

Much as I loved seeing and holding the actual small red leather-bound journal with which Bingham traveled, it was almost impossible to read the very faded pencil scrawl. Thankfully, Bingham had also produced a typescript in which he expanded into narrative the brief notes in the journal.

I started right at the beginning, with Bingham’s departure from New York in June. I already knew that the date he first saw the ruins at Machu Picchu was July 24. As I read through the typescript, I had to laugh inwardly at myself: I was leaning forward on the chair as the date crept closer to July 24. Even though I already knew what would happen, I couldn’t wait to read about it.

July 21 . . . 22 . . . 23 . . . and then—

July 25!?? What the freak—

There were SEVEN pages missing! The exact pages for the July 24 entry!

I almost knocked over my chair in my haste to find a librarian. Three of them examined the file. All were bemused. They apologized and said they had no idea where the missing pages were but would attempt to trace them.

Then I really had to laugh. I mean, what else can you do?

The mostly-blissful session in the Sterling Reading Room was followed by an event at the Beinecke Library across the street. The current exhibit being displayed on the mezzanine of the Beinecke, “By Hand,” http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/exhibitions/hand-celebrating-manuscript-collections was curated by Dr. Kathryn James. Readers of The 39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers series might recognize her name: She’s a character in the title I wrote for the series, TRUST NO ONE.

The ‘By Hand’ exhibit is breathtaking–a selection of the most famous and/or intriguing items in the Beinecke collections. And one of the display cases holds the Voynich manuscript–which is the linchpin of TRUST NO ONE.

To my surprise and delight, Kathryn decided to include a copy of TRUST NO ONE in the display case, as well as a couple of my manuscript pages! I sent her before-and-after pages for which my Scholastic editor, Rachel Griffiths, had made a suggestion for a change. Rachel’s comments are printed out in the margins in bright neon colors, using the MS Word program–a rather jarring contrast to the vellum and parchment in many of the other cases!

Kathryn also invited me to do a presentation about my book and the research I had done, which included a previous visit to the Beinecke to look through the Voynich as well as to case the joint and figure out a way for Dan & Amy to steal the manuscript. (To find out if they succeeded, you’ll have to read the book.) She did a lovely introduction, and after my presentation there was a wine-and-yummy-nibbles reception.

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With Kathryn James in front of the display case. Over my shoulder, a copy of TRUST NO ONE, and next to it, the Voynich itself!

Then Kathryn took a small group to dinner: Three librarians, editor Mallory Kass from Scholastic (standing in for Rachel, who is on vacation–Mallory did A LOT of the work on The 39 Clues), and a young reader (the son of one of the librarians. And I do mean READER). We had one of the best dinner conversations ever…and the food was good too. (Zinc restaurant in New Haven. I had a lentil salad and scallops.)

I can’t thank Kathryn enough–for her help with the book, AND for the opportunity to present at Yale!

But the magical day wasn’t over yet. When I got back to The Study, I listened to the last few innings of the Mets-Dodgers game…

…which the Mets won on Jordany Valdespin’s walk-off grand slam.

WOW. What a day.