Rare People and Rare Books


The film, Fading Gigilo opens with Woody Allen carefully tissue wrapping beautiful leather bound books. The camera pans to empty shelves. He is closing the bookstore first established by his grandfather. He laments,

This is the end of an era my friend, only rare people buy rare books.

Soon after that scene, I lost interest in the film; but, the statement about rare books made sense to me . . .

A while back, I stumbled upon web sites that sold books by color as objects to decorate mantels or accent bookshelves. Some of these websites will rent books for staging a room. Edith Wharton in her book, The Decoration of Houses wrote,

Those who really care for books are seldom content to restrict them to the library, for nothing adds more to the charm of a drawing-room than a well-designed bookcase: an expanse of beautiful bindings is as decorative as a fine tapestry.

The most beautiful rooms are often in libraries.

Main Reading Room, The Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Main Reading Room, The Library of Congress, Washington, DC

There are websites devoted to collecting photographs of those temples of the book. Some of the oldest and finest are in Paris. Some the best are in the United States. Books and manuscripts are treasures guarded by librarians who are truly the keepers of the keys! It is books that live long past currency, economies, politics, empires and even nations.

BNF, Site Richelieu, Paris


Rare people like rare books.

In a fairly recent article in The New York Times on travel to Paris, Richard Woodward wrote, “IN a city where braininess is sexy, the bibliothèques of Paris don’t suffer from the dowdy image problem that afflicts libraries in the United States.”

Cleveland Public Library

Hmmm . . . not too sure about his conclusion. Rather than dowdy, I might say that going to the library is a habit. We learn habits. One of the most beautiful libraries that I know of is the old Carnegie Library in Chicago Heights. chihgtspl1I developed the habit of going to the library because of its location – directly next to the bus station. It was comfortable, there were chairs and there was always something to read . . . the children’s library smelled just like a library should. Not too long ago, I wanted to take my grandson to the Columbus Public Library. His refusal was adamant. He would, however, go to the bookstore that day. Thank goodness! On the other hand, there are some books that we cannot buy. And those books are rare – and increasingly available online. Google deserves all the credit – it was Google who first began digitizing the vast holdings of important libraries – many libraries fought their efforts. Would it not signal the end?

Not really. The Chicago Heights Public Library (ca. 1901) was demolished in 1974. The center of the city was no longer the center of town. As in so many other cities, community life had changed. But, that library was a place of memory. Ask anyone from Chicago Heights, older than say fifty years or so, about the library . . .  Here in Athens, there was recently a fire. The destruction of the buildings on Union Street brought many of us back to past memories

Photo of Union Street, Athens Ohio posted by Cliff
Photo of Union Street, Athens Ohio posted by Clif Kittle

. . . those buildings are places of memory.

Books as well. . . favorite books, books that change lives, books that were impossible, books we could not finish . . . Moby Dick, Hercules, Batman first came to us in books. But they live in our memory. Quite often, the first editions of those books are coveted because of their importance in our lives. My conclusion is that memories are collections that our minds keep. Books stir those memories, but they do not contain them. At the same time, it is rare that people collect rare books. That is a very  different question.

Books allow us to peek into the past. Like Edith Wharton’s book on Decoration. It is a good read. But digitized books rarely include the illustrations!  One of my favorite old books is The Landscape Gardening Book (ca. 1911) by Grace Taborwherein are set down the simple laws of beauty and utility which should guide the development of all grounds. Tabor’s classic work is available online – since this book provides insight on the importance of biodiversity, it comes as no surprise that a site dedicated to biodiversity has digitized her work.  And yet another But, what is a book on gardening without illustrations?

If you are around Athens, stop in and take a look at her book . . . any Friday, Saturday or Sunday afternoon. On the other days, I am usually reading or writing in my favorite library in a place called home.

Books wrapped with Memories (Dedicated to Mériam)





I grew up in a city but we had a garden. Next to our garage, there was a five foot wide strip of land. My father planted tomatoes and lettuce – maybe there were other things like peppers. But tomatoes grew there abundantly. The very best tomatoes cannot be had at a grocery store – at least not the grocery stores that I remember. My Dad was the original Yoda but, rather than riddles he offered guidance in the form of brief statements that had the force of incontrovertible truths. And this was one of those truths: You can’t buy good tomatoes in a grocery store.

The other great small garden that I knew well belonged to my grandmother. She grew tomatoes and strawberries. As if it were yesterday, I remember hulling the berries at the kitchen sink. Of course, as in any really good memory, there was sun streaming in the window. She never really talked a lot so we worked in silence until the bowl was full.

In those small garden plots, gardening became a part of the life. You might even say that gardening was woven into the everyday of living as a warp thread. No matter how small that spot, something good will grow.

How I Became a Compulsive Gardener

I was a small time gardener until I started writing a dissertation and finally had a large spot to grow things. The garden spot was on a steep slope in the hills. Rocky. Steep. Impossible clay soil. It was a slow going. I started with a compost bin which was absolutely necessary to enrich the spoil. The compost bin was located on that steep slope. The second time that I slipped and fell on my way to that bin, I decided I needed to make some steps. It took awhile but I finally figured out how to build steps – one step at a time!

The first steps were the hardest!
The first steps were the hardest!

Ultimately, the building of the steps taught me how to write a dissertation – As I would take my shovel and dig into that hard clay, I understood that as in everything we do in life, it is one shovelful of clay, one step or one paragraph. By the time the dissertation was complete, the steps were complete and the garden was well on its way!


As the garden grew, I found that I had more and more ideas that required a much larger knowledge base than I learned in the city. Seed catalogs and gardening books provided inspiration for me – as they have since the very first printing of drawing of a garden. Medieval Health Guides included illustrations of plants in gardens – many of these are now online like this illustration of sage.

Hyssop from Acuinum Sanitatis
Hyssop from Acuinum Sanitatis

This week we added many new titles to our ever increasing collection of gardening books with books from a garden club in Worthington! They are readily identified by the bookplate – flowers of course! The best news is that our price for most of our books is well below the cost of a new paperback.  One of our new finds is very hard to put down because of the format – questions and answers that are organized so well that the book flows.  . .

F. F. Rockwell, 10,000 Garden Questions. Answered by Experts. (Doubleday, 1944, revised 1959).  I appreciate the title – it is accurately descriptive! Weighing in at a hefty 1390 pages, the coverage is encyclopedic. Even though there is only a brief article on organic gardening, there is a wealth of information,  so it is a good place to look when you have a question.

Speaking of organic, we have many books, both vintage and recent about organic gardening published by Rodale Press.

One of my favorite gardening books is The Landscape Gardening Book by Grace Tabor (1911). She begins this beautiful book with “Gardens do not happen. A Garden is as much the expression of an idea as a poem, or a symphony . . . But ordinarily we fail to recognize this until the actual work of evolving a garden lies before us.”  Soon after I built my first few steps, I realized that the most important element in the garden is structure that is guided by our plot of earth. The biggest strength of this book comes from her idea that every garden, no matter how small, needs a place for us to rest, to sit, to meditate . . . as she writes, there is a spirit in the garden. This is truly a lovely book!

The Landscape Gardening Book
The Landscape Gardening Book

More later . . . I can no longer ignore the laundry. It evolves.