For many people, one of the great pleasures in buying secondhand books is to find between the covers some evidence of a previous owner. Bookplates and carefully calligraphed names; inscriptions from friends or family; footnotes and angry annotations; opinions on torn pieces of paper hurriedly inserted at a random page or carefully pasted on to the endpapers; tram tickets and cigarette cards; reviews and author obituaries snipped from newspapers or journals; pressed flowers from some languid, long-ago summer afternoon when the book was last loved: such things somehow connect you with another time as well as another reader and offer an insight in to their past or perhaps even your own future in a way unique to this peculiar experience that causes certain book buyers to rhapsodise in similarly florid terms. Personally, I find it rather off-putting and annoying; if I want a book defaced I’ll bloody well do it myself. However, occasionally I will discover something that fills me with joy.
A couple of weeks ago I found a copy of The Moons Of Paradise , and I’ve been smirking ever since. It’s a book about breasts. More specifically, as you will quickly deduce from its proper title, ‘The Moons Of Paradise: some reflections on the appearance of the female breast in art…’ by Mervyn Levy (Arthur Barker Ltd., 1962), it is a book about arty breasts, a subject certainly ripe for exploration which, as far as I know, wasn’t tackled by the likes of EH Gombrich. (I could be wrong about that, of course; art historians are a notoriously rum bunch.) I’ve no idea how seriously Levy takes his subject either because I haven’t actually read the book, nor do I think it likely that I ever will. But then, I don’t need to; the previous owner of this copy has read it for me, and read it with a zeal and eye for detail that is little short of astonishing. Despite his obvious enthusiasm for the subject matter and the pains he has clearly taken in his annotations and additions, it seems he may have strayed slightly from the scholarly path on to the well-trodden promenade of seaside smut; but even if his amateur scholarship was academe’s loss (unless there is a secret Benny Hill Chair in Mammarial Studies at Cambridge), it is undoubtedly our gain. I think it best if I take you through the book page by page for a while.
We start with a quotation from Eugenio Coseriu , a mystic incantation and a bad French pun on the front endpapers:
sur les seins de l’epouse, on ecrase l’epoux.
A BRA, CAD, A BRA!
Overleaf, the verso grants us further puns based around the word ‘seins’, whilst the recto gains two carefully-drawn papillary dots in each O of the word ‘MOONS’, the reflection that ‘Bust (bosom) is just sublimated bottom’ and the first hand-drawn bosom of many, labelled ‘From Great Divide to Cleavage’. I think you may be beginning to get the picture…
There are 31 further drawings of pairs of breasts on the dedication page (along with the inscription ‘tats for tits’),
and then the fun really begins. From here onward almost every single page of this 140-page book has a newspaper clipping, postcard, or picture inserted, each of which, as you may already have guessed, is… well… is like this:
You get the idea. Oh go on then; one more:
Several of the newspaper clippings are from 1970, so it seems fair to date this extraordinary endeavour of thematic archiving to around that point. From our hyper-sexualised vantage here in the early 21st Century, this book’s new contents seem rather innocent. Preserved for the last forty years as a memento mammary (I’m not going to apologise for that; it gets to you, this book), it may seem little more than an oddity, a curious relic of one man’s unusual obsession, but I think that as an historical document (yes, really), this book might have some value. Discuss.
 Freudian typo: I originally wrote ‘mons’ instead of ‘moons’. Make of that what you will.
 No, me neither. Sorry. Google him.