There is a stack of books in my study catalogued as “books that I want to read.” This stack of books has existed as long as I can remember – as a young girl it was a mental list – over time, the stack of books has steadily increased. After all , the more we read, the more we want to read; the older we become, the more books we collect. I refuse to shelve books that I have not read; so I have resorted to different stacks – fiction and nonfiction for instance. One stack next to the bed, another in the kitchen . . . the neat stacks have grown into piles of books. You see, last year, most of my reading was devoted to rather feeble attempts to understand internet publishing. As the stacks grew, so did my longing to linger with a book. At long last, I have taken the time to rest, relax and read. One of the first books that captured my attention was The Margaret Tarrant Christmas Book. I surmised that I would quickly go through the illustrated treasure and then properly shelve it with Christmas Books. But then I stumbled upon a poem titled, Immanence by Evelyn Underhill. I was taken aback – and then way back to an undergraduate research project on mysticism. You might say, that Evelyn Underhill wrote THE book on mysticism.
There are books and then, there are covers or dust jackets for hardbound books.
I recently came across quite a few books published in the late 1940s with dust jackets intact. They are intriguing, interesting and nice to behold. Can we judge a book by its cover, maybe not. But we can quickly get an idea about the book. . . . see what you think. How much do we know judging from the covers?
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.
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.
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.”
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. I 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
. . . 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 Tabor, wherein 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.