Sunday, February 24, 2013

Who Collects Old Books?

There’s something about old books that appeals to me. When I say old, I mean anything published in the early 1900’s (or even earlier). When I hold a really old book in my hands, I think about all the people who owned the book before I did. I look inside for inscriptions and make up stories about the previous readers. 

            “lot’s of love to Elaine From Janice and Karen- 30-6-65”

There’s even a long row of xxxxs under the inscription. Who were Janice and Elaine? Were they siblings? Other relatives? They spelled ‘lots’ incorrectly but that doesn’t tell me much. The date is written differently than I would expect, so were they from another country? I’ll never know and I’m fine with that. It’s still fun to wonder.

            My favorite books are the really old ones. I have a book of Andersen’s Fairy Tales with a color cover plate that was published in 1884 and purchased in a used book store in New Jersey sometime in the early 1970’s. The book has been in my possession ever since and while it’s not in the greatest condition (for some reason, the little mermaid on the cover looks like she has a moustache), it is still a pleasure to pick up and read. 

            “Pilgrims of the Night” by Frederick William Faber was another old book I discovered in a used book store. I bought it just a few years ago, drawn to it by the simple fact that it was published over one hundred years ago. I’ve never even read it (Christian poetry just isn’t really my thing) but I couldn’t walk away from another book published in 1884. It even had a handwritten inscription inside, dated 12/25/1885. 

            Of course, my absolute favorite old books are the ones in my Oz collection. I think I’ve written about these before, so I won’t go into detail, except to say that there is nothing like pulling out an old copy of “Rinkitink in Oz” or “Kapumpo in Oz” to make me feel like I’m eight years old again. 

            And finally there are the books I read as a child and tracked down as an adult. When I was four or five, my father read me a book about a little boy who lived in an electric house. The only thing I remembered about this story was that one day something happened and he ended up doing everything backwards, including taking a shower upside down while a machine scrubbed his feet.

          Memories of this book lingered for years but I never had any luck finding it. Then a few years ago the wonders of the Internet solved the puzzle and I was able to not only learn the title of the book, but find a copy in a used bookstore on the other side of the country. 

         “Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead” now sits on a shelf in my office, reminding me that books are powerful enough to keep a hold on us for a lifetime.    

       Do you have old books you’ve discovered or rediscovered? I’d love to hear about them.  
Pilgrims of the Night by Frederick William Faber

Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead by William Pene DuBois

Pinocchio in America by Angelo Patri

Andersen's Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen

Mother West Wind "How" Stories by Thornton W. Burgess



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