The Pleasure of Old Books

Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love old books.  I am drawn to them like a magnet at garage sales and book sales. I love the smell, the feel of the pages that are softened with repeated use. I love the decorative covers and, especially, the stories inside.  And then there are the pieces of the past you can discover inside a book, the unexpected treasure, the paper ephemera someone used for a bookmark. I’ve found old photos, stubs from a plane ticket, a newspaper clipping, a grocery list, a birthday card. I love these finds almost as much as the book itself.  There is a website devoted to found things,  Found Magazine,

Then there is the webpage on ABE books that discusses some of the things people have found in their books

The most valuable thing I’ve ever discovered in a book is a signed photo of Belva Plain, but I did once find a fifty dollar bill in a purse I’d gotten at a garage sale.

In my house you will find old books on my shelves because they mean something to me, either favorites from childhood, or books I’ve enjoyed so much as an adult that I’ve wanted to own them:

I also have old books strewn throughout my house because I either bought them for re-sale (can’t stop doing that despite the fact that I don’t sell on eBay much anymore) or because someone has given them to me. These books were in a box my brother found on someone’s curb, and he thought of me when he picked it up and stashed it in his vehicle to share with me:

Isn’t the children’s book at the bottom just adorable?

The garbage-picking gene must be in our family because my nephew finds some really good stuff at the recycling center or in the garbage too:

Is it wrong to envy my nephew his easy-access to recycling bins and my brother the better garbage in his college-town? This is the same town we lived in when my children and I discovered diaper boxes filled with toys in an alley. It isn’t the culture and activities I miss so much by living in a small town, it is the lack of dumpsters and recycling center.

I miss my family’s weekly adventures at the recycling center and the full mailbox of trades, coupons and free premiums that were part and parcel of a refunding mom’s life in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

I still have the old books to remind me of simpler days, though.  I don’t think I will ever cross over to the world of Kindle, reading from a screen.  I don’t even care for online magazines or newspapers.  You can’t smell them or feel them.  My books are my friends, and I’m not about to give up those closest to me.

But what about those old books that, despite our best intentions, are headed to a landfill?  What would have happened to the books my brother found on the curb if he hadn’t confiscated them?  Would the covers be torn off, the pages shredded? I can’t save every old book, and there are a few I wouldn’t want to, among them the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books I abhor, or the dry, fact-filled textbooks that exist solely for the purpose of boring young minds.

What do you think about the art of “altered books?”  If you haven’t heard this term before, you might be interested to know that there are artists who transform old books into works of art:

I have mixed feelings about the practice. On the one hand, I believe books are for reading.  These books are, for all intents and purposes, ruined. No one can read them after this.

On the other hand, I grew up lusting after books. I am the child who carted home wagons full of little books when our local library gave away old books because they were moving into a new building. Those little books turned out to be small classic poetry books that I never actually read but appreciated the beauty of.  My siblings were grabbing the Zane Grey and Grace Livingston Hill books while I concentrated on tiny volumes that appealed to my aesthetic sense of beauty.  Surely then, I can understand the concept of books as a visual art form?

But who decides which books get cut, shredded, pasted, and adorned in the process?

Therein lies the crux of the matter. I can’t get past the fact that one artist might see fit to choose, say an old Lois Lenski book, perhaps the very one I am searching for, for their art project.  They snatch it up right in front of me at a book sale, despite the fact that my hand is reaching for it, my eyes glinting with the joy of finally finding that one book  I need to complete my collection.  Then they go home and snip at the pages, glue some buttons on it, attach some ribbon and photos, and that one book is lost to the world forever. It will never be read by a child or adult again.

Except, there are more books, of course.

We couponers and deal-hunters always console each other this way. Miss a deal? Can’t make it to the Target 75% off Christmas sale?  Missed the free online $20 introductory offer that lasted all of two hours? Didn’t get to Walgreens last week when a $5 catalina offer meant free razors?  Don’t worry, there will be other days, other deals.

The same could be said about books.  I am always hunting for certain books, and if I don’t find them at the book sales I attend, I could always order them on the Internet, despite some very prohibitive prices on some.

Or perhaps I’ll find a treasure in the most unexpected place;

the sale room at my local library, the bag sale at another library, a garage sale, an auction.

Or, maybe, just maybe,  in a box on the curb.

One thought on “The Pleasure of Old Books

  1. Elizabeth says:

    When I worked in the book department at Walmart, putting new books and taking down old, I felt sickened by my job. When taking down the old paperbacks (sometimes just a month old!) I had to tear the covers off ALL the books and drop the cart of ruined books off in the back of the store to be thrown away. I was tempted, many times, to drag one or two paperbacks that were headed towards the dumpster home with me to be read but that was against the rules so I never did. What a waste! Those books could have been donated to a prison, hospital, or nursing home and enjoyed. Just one of the many examples of extreme waste in our society. 😦

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s