Wednesday, December 14, 2005

On treasuring old books

A family member recently gave me an old book. It's in poor condition, but I was charmed the instant I glimpsed the title, which I recognized as Mrs. Gaskell's best-known novel (in 1851 her friend and supporter Charles Dickens serialized it in his magazine, Household Words).

A serious collector would find nothing of interest here, but this tattered copy of Cranford has found a loving home with this romance writer. I'm a sentimental soul who enjoys holding musty-smelling old books and wondering about the people who have read and treasured them, so I was pleased to see this inscription on the flyleaf:

Who was this Mr. Murray? A handsome romantic, just off to college? Or perhaps a middle-aged banker with three giggling daughters who vied to be the first to read Papa's new book? And how many people read this little volume over the years? Was it often loaned out? Was it passed from one generation of Murrays to the next? Was it read aloud next to coal fires or under gas lamps?

The book's spine is beginning to crumble, so although I have carefully turned its pages and read a few passages, this is not a book to curl up with and savor from start to finish. Many people would snort and declare it a waste of the few dollars that purchased it. But it has provoked my imagination, so I'm calling it priceless.


Anonymous said...

So there is something that we both like :) old books

Mirtika said...

Because of my bad, bad allergies--as in crippling, as in keep me from working--I can't handle old books without a mask. Doesn't stop me, though. I have an 1880's copy of a book of Tennyson poetry, and I have the most charming little "authograph" book of an Ohio girl from 1893. It's so sweet to see the handwriting of all her friends, and her own father's entry, to wonder how this girl's life turned out, a gal who had many friends and held this small, leather book.

I love browsing antique knick-knack shops for old books, just to look at inscriptions and see a bit of someone and think, "Well, you meant this book for a loved one, and now you and they are dead, but for this moment, I'll think of you and you won't be forgotten."


Brenda Coulter said...

"Well, you meant this book for a loved one, and now you and they are dead, but for this moment, I'll think of you and you won't be forgotten."


Anonymous said...

I just love old books as well. I have my great-grandmother's copy of Louisa May Alcott's Flower Fables and had to promise that it wouldn't leave me until after my last breath does.

Dr. Lisa said...

How wonderful to have your gran's book! I love old books, too, but I am a complete dilettante. A book doesn't even have to be old for me to love it. Man, if I find a slip of paper in a book or notes I'm like a pig in slop. Oh. Somebody--a man if the handwriting is any clue--left his grocery list in here. Did he forget something at the store becuase of his ersatz bookmark? Why did the other reader underline that particular passage, the one that strikes me as prosaic. And don't even get me started on dedications inside the front cover. Such an inveterate snoop I am.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I have my grandma's copies of Heidi and Hans Brinker. They are fragile but I love them all the same. I too, love old books!

Chris said...

I have my great-aunt Gyda's 1916 Macmillan Pocket Edition of Tennyson's Idyll's of the King. Pencilled on the cover page: In this book are buried hidden treasures--

Other than a couple faux tintype postcards of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra tucked insisde the back cover and a bunch of poems I haven't found any treasure.

Still, I wonder if I've overlooked something.

--Chris (dFm)

Camy Tang said...

I LOVE OLD BOOKS! I started collecting original Grace Livingston Hill hardcover books, printed during the war. They're lovely. I also have a few old Baroness Orczy Pimpernel titles (not the first one, but her sequels upon sequels).


Cindy said...

The only reason I hit yard/garage sales is in the hope of finding old books! Most of mine are school books from the 1800s, philosophies, Latin readers, etc.; I once came across a collection of perfectly good nursing school manuals that the woman was selling for a penny each (I'm a nurse, and it's fascinating to see how much the profession has evolved)! Unfortunately, those books have been lost...there's nothing worse, I think, than having someone come assess damage and tell you that BOOKS were destroyed! :-(

Mirtika said...

Chris has a postcard of Queen Alexandra? Well, shoot if I ain't a bit green over that.