Reflections of Old Books
By Richard Mabey Jr.
Old books are suddenly becoming more rare these days. It’s almost as if in the last four or five years, old books are simply no longer to be found at yard sales, flea markets, garage sales, and that sort of thing. There is something very special about an old book. There is the feel of the cover, the sense of wondering how many people have read your book before, and then there is that distinct odor that falls somewhere between the smell of a musty cellar and an old attic.
I have a fairly decent collection of old books. The one old book that I am most proud of is a First Edition publication of dear old Thomas Wolfe’s first book, Look Homeward Angel. Great book. One of the things I like about old books is how the ink would fill in the space in the letter “e.” Ya’ ain’t gonna find that kind of character on a nook or any electronic book reader for that matter.
Then there is this very real sense of honor of being the guardian and caretaker of old books. One particular, very old Hardy Boys book that I have has the description in it that reads: “To Jimmy, Happy Birthday, Love Grandma.” I bought this little gem at a yard sale. I often wonder why Jimmy would sell a cherished book for two dollars at a yard sale. With a little thought on the subject, the consideration needs to be contemplated that Jimmy passed on and one of his loved ones sold his earthly possessions at a yard sale. It sounds funny, but there is a certain sense that these books need to be placed on a bookshelf, respected, be protected from harsh sunlight, and be read from time to time. I know that may sound corny, but there is a certain truth to it.
Some of my most cherished old books are in my collection of old Boy Scout Handbooks. This collection of very old scout books belonged to my dad. The early Boy Scout Handbooks used a lot of woodcut drawings in them. A bowline is a bowline, however there is something that calls out from the past, from the early days of scouting in the etched woodcut drawing of the diagrams of how to tie a bowline knot of those very early Boy Scout Handbooks. Dad spent decades searching for old Boy Scout Handbooks. My father was a long distance truck driver. So, his collection of scout handbooks was literally found, from coast to coast, at yard sales, small town bookstores, and little shops all over America. I take the job, of serving as guardian and caretaker of Dad’s old scout books, very seriously.
I’m all for this great progress we’ve made in our electronic gadget revolution, really and truly I am. I remember one time, Stan Lee once said in an interview that nothing could take the place of holding a comic book in your hands. For him, that was one of the quiet highlights of being a kid. And, it really is true, nothing can take the place of holding an old book. Turning the yellowed pages, seeing how the typesetter printed the page just a little off center, taking in the scent of aged paper, and knowing that the very book you are holding has a rich and colorful history. Truly, no electronic reader can ever capture the feel and magic of holding a very old book in your hands and absorbing its aged wisdom and time-tested knowledge.