I’ve read a lot of books about used bookstores lately. One of those books (The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell) was particularly critical of Amazon, and rightfully so. The more I understand about market forces and the inequitable wealth distribution in our country, the less fond I am of Amazon myself. But it’s not going away, at least any time soon, and that’s something with which we must all come to terms.
Anyway, this got me thinking about how I acquire my books. I do get some from Amazon, but not all, not by far. Though I don’t recall where I got every book I’ve ever read, I do remember the origins of quite a few, and I have acquired books in just about every way that they can be acquired.
I thought it might be fun to write about the origins of certain books that have come into my life. So this post is the first of what might become a series of posts. I will start with the way in which I received most of my first books: hand-me-downs.
Most of my oldest, most cherished books are hand-me-downs. If you examine the spines of the children’s books on my shelves, you can tell almost immediately which ones have some real age on them. Pull them down and open them up. Odds are you’ll find the name of at least one previous owner. Among the names you’ll see are my aunt T, who died when I was a child, and my cousin K, who got some of her books from our mutual cousin S. My brother’s name also shows up from time to time. And while none of the books contains my mother’s name, she says that my oldest Nancy Drew books probably came from her childhood collection.
While all these old books are cherished, as attested to by their continued presence on my shelves, they’re not all favorites. I don’t think I’ve ever read Hitty, which once belonged to Aunt T. I read The Water-Babies (also one of hers) a few years ago, and I despised it. I could never part with it, though, so it still lives on my shelves.
My library of hand-me-downs has some strange gaps in it. Why do I have T’s copy of A Wind in the Door but not A Wrinkle in Time? Why do I have only one Little House on the Prairie book and only one Dr. Dolittle? I remember reading more from both series as a child. What happened to Heidi, which I’m almost certain I owned, and to my mother’s dozens of Nancy Drew books? Did I inadvertently destroy some of them? Did I give them away? Did I let my parents put them in the attic where they were slowly nibbled away by mice and other pests?
It certainly is possible that some of my books met their doom in the attic. I remember crawling around up there once, perhaps as a young teen. Mice had gotten into some of the boxes. I rescued a bunch of books that hadn’t yet been chewed to pieces, but I believe most of those had belonged to my parents and my brother. I’m not sure if any of my books were ever up there. My memory doesn’t have the answers for me. I simply do not remember.
Of the books that I still own, one of my very favorites is Tales from the Arabian Nights. I wrote about it a few years ago. I still think it smells great (papery and slightly spicy), but it aggravates my allergies. Like many people, I seem to have a mild reaction to old paper, though I don’t know if it’s the dust, the dust mites, or the paper itself. That’s OK. I don’t handle the book often. Mostly I just love it for the images that it formed in my mind, and which I still have today, of the fruit-shaped jewels that Aladdin finds in the cave with the magic lamp. The text is well-written and a joy to read, so I will probably read the book again some day, and sneeze.
Other inherited favorites include . . .
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (this book has an inscription. It was given to my aunt by her aunt, after whom she was named, “with worlds of love” in 1960)
- The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- The Kate Greenaway Treasury
- The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith
- The Rescuers (and other books from the series) by Margery Sharp
- Dominic by William Steig
The more I read about used bookstores, the more I realize that my personal library has little value to anyone besides myself. Kids rarely want their parents’ books, and few of mine would draw collectors. Most of them aren’t first editions, signed copies, or in any way historically interesting, plus they’re showing their age. The Tales of the Arabian Nights‘ lack of dust jacket, poor overall condition, and presumed lack of intrinsic value all mean that, when I die, it’s probably going to be thrown away. Nobody else is going to want an old, very foxed and tanned book that makes them sneeze.
But we’ve lived happily together all these years, the book and I. I guess dying together wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. Until we go, I’ll keep sharing my love for it (and books in general) with anyone who will listen.