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?