From Inspired by Life . . . and Fiction this week:
As you know, I’ve been cataloguing the books in my library. I got about half done via barcode, but the other half? Too old for barcodes! So I’ve been inputting them manually, little by little. The other day I did a shelf of Grace Livingston Hill novels. I have a ton of them! Most are reprints from the 1970s-1990s, but a few are the old, hardbound books with fragile pages. As I carefully flipped to the title page of each book to note publication date and publisher, I remembered why I love old books so much.
Partly, of course, I love the story inside, otherwise it wouldn’t be on my shelf! But the stories of old books don’t stop with its pages.
I take such pleasure in knowing that I hold the book in its original published form. Not just the type and the words, but the original cover as well. Usually this means a hard cover which is essentially plain, with only the title and author. A few have dust jackets with an illustration, but it’s rare to find books from the early 20th century with those paper covers intact.
The inside cover of an old book is also a treasure trove for the imagination. Often there is an inscription of a gift, a Merry Christmas or a Happy Birthday, often with the accompanying year of its gifting. Sometimes there is only a name noting a previous owner. It’s also interesting when there’s a notation of a library in which the book once lived or the penciled in price from a used/rare book store.
It’s these notations—the book’s passport stamps, if you will—that really endear old books to my heart. Who were these people? Did they read the book more than once or did they read it at all? Was it a beloved title or a random gift? And how did it reach my bookshelf? Was it discarded during a spring cleaning binge? When downsizing to a nursing home? Kids cleaning out a parent or grandparent’s belongings after they passed, with no attachment themselves to this title?
When I read an old book, I often wonder about all those who have turned these exact pages before me. Those who have read and lived and died. And I wonder what will happen to these books after I’m gone. Likely my children will haul them all to Half Price Books or donate them to the local library. But maybe they will find a few to hold onto. Or my grandchildren will snatch a few from the giveaway box.
Whatever the fate of my already old books, I hope that one day someone else will hold it in their hands, and as they read, they’ll wonder about me.
What is the greatest appeal of old books for you? Is it just about a favorite story in its original packaging or does the “history” of the book draw you? What has been your favorite old book find?
I love old books, too! I think it began when my parents bought a 1900 victorian looking old home to restore/renovate when I was in first grade. I had a spacious bedroom that they furnished with antique furniture from auctions. I had a desk with a few bookshelves in my room and my parents bought old books (Eight Cousins, by Louisa May Alcott was one of them) for a few of the shelves. Others were old blue or yellow hardback Nancy Drew mysteries that I loved so much. My parents enjoyed going “antiquing” for their “new” old home so picked up more old books to decorate with in the parlor. My Mom’s family would visit from 16 hours away and go antiquing, too. (And see our family and help work on fixing up our old home.)
Since then, I have moved over 14 times in all those years and still have my old books (and many others). They are like old friends and it’s fun to reread those stories which transport me back to those simpler days of childhood.
Have you ever heard of Lamplighter Publishing? (In Mount Morris, NY.) They are reprinting old (old) titles with beautiful vintage looking covers. My family has begun picking up those for me over the past few years. Great stories with morals, depth, and usually elements of faith woven into them. Be sure to check out their books to add to your collection or give as gifts to your family.
I love your story, Jen! Yes, old books from childhood are the best–whether they were old then or new back then! (I still have my boxed set of Little House on the Prairie books I received for my 8th birthday!) My husband and I have always wanted to live in an old house, but we settled for a newer one built in an old style. 🙂
I will check out Lamplighter Publishing! How fun!
The Little House set is a treasure! I’m happy you shared this post about old books as now I know I am not the only one who appreciates them.
Enjoy perusing through the Lamplighter collection!! They also have dramatic audios which are excellent, too! https://lamplighter.net is their web address.
I love Grace Livingston Hill! I read her books as a teenager. I had a large collection I saved for a future daughter. I gave them to her not realizing she would not enjoy them. Don’t know what happened to them. I guess she gave them away. She and I are so different. I’m extremely sentimental, she is not.
It’s hard when we give books we love to someone who doesn’t love them as much as we do, isn’t it? But whatever she did with them, I hope they find their way into the hands of readers who will treasure them as you did!
Mom and I used to haunt numerous used bookstores for both our collections. One of her favorite authors was D.E.Stevenson and we were constantly on the lookout for them. One title, The Story of Rosabelle Shaw was seemingly impossible to find. She was so jazzed when I finally found it for a few dollars…. old paperback….she had to read it page by page….literally…..as most pages were no longer connected to the spine. I still have that collection, plus her Elizabeth Gouge and Agnes Sligh Turnbull books. I sold a bunch of my Girls Series books, but still have some and are on to new collections now. =) Some of the the tween books I kept were from Berkley Highland Books ….Beany Malone, Dinny Gordon, etc. I’ve never lost the thrill of the hunt !!!!
The hunt is half the fun, isn’t it? I just read my first Elizabeth Gouge a couple of months ago–and my first D.E. Stevenson last year. So I guess now I’ll have to look up Agnes Sligh Turnbull!