For Christmas, my husband gave me the bestselling novel by Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, which I finished the other night. Well, except for two pages. Because they weren’t there. I’m reading along on page 323 and get to the bottom:
I grasped it. Like everything else in my life—I got it, I lost it!
Then I turned the page and read:
her dorm room instead of eating in the dining hall with the other students.
Now this obviously wasn’t a continuation of the previous page, but it did sound familiar. I looked at the page number—what should have been 324 was a repeat of 224, and across from it was another page 225 where page 325 should have been. I went back in the book to find the real page 224, which was still there. So it hadn’t crept through the book and staked out a new spot.
Hoping that the following pages would be the missing page 324 and 325, I turned to find the very last page of the book, page 326. After that? Just acknowledgments and blank pages.
I’m beginning to think that this is some brilliantly weird trick being played on me by the author or perhaps a statement on how history repeats itself or was itself a parallel for the missing protagonist, Bernadette, or…okay, probably just a printing error.
But here’s the thing. I know how books are made—large sheets of paper are printed with 16 pages on one side and 16 on the other. Each one of these sheets is called a signature. Back in the day, when a printer checked and then approved one of these sheets, he signed off on it, hence the term signature. (This is why hardbound picture books generally have 32 pages, rather than 25 or 40. Go ahead, check.) So if this were a printer’s error, 32 pages would be missing, not just two.
And it gets weirder.
I scanned both versions of page 224 and noticed something: on the first page 224, the headmaster’s name was Judge Choate, but on the second page 224, his name was Seymour St. John.
The next day I shared my bizarre discovery with my husband, who agreed that this was pretty strange. He told me he purchased it at the Books, Inc. near our office. So that afternoon I took a mini field trip to said store to see whether my copy was the only one missing pages and also to see if there was one available with pages 324 and 325 intact that I could read. There were no copies on the shelves, but a helpful employee told me she had one behind the counter that she was holding for someone and that I could take a look at it. I started to explain why I needed to see the book, but she was already nodding her head and sporting a sheepish smile. My copy was apparently not the only one missing pages 324 and 325. But she assured me that the current shipment had all the pages in the right order.
So, standing near the cash register, I read the two pages before handing the book back to her.
I had thought it would feel more satisfying getting to the bottom of the mystery. But once I learned that everyone with a book from that particular printing had the same renegade pages, I no longer felt like I had something special. The author had no secret message she was trying to convey. Someone at Little, Brown probably saw that the headmaster had inexplicably changed names and had tried to replace the text on 234 and 235 but missed the mark by 100 pages.
But at least now I know what happened to Bernadette. And what happened to pages 324 and 325.