Thursday, June 29, 2017
Recent Wall Street Journal Article about Used books
I have often said and thought the same, and it is why I enjoy book sales, browsing through old books. Besides as I posted int he review of See No Evil here, there are many not so current books that I have yet to read, not every great read is a current bestseller. Some good books like classics are timeless, after all. For a long time I stopped making my own peculiar or insightful comments along the margins of pages of books I have been reading. I was trying to not spoil the page for whomever would get the book next, sometimes I pass them along, sometimes I donate to sales.. Finally I have resumed doing so, because I enjoy it and why bother to get a separate sheet of paper for my own notes. One woman told me years ago that she always enjoyed getting the books I read at local used book sales and she could tell because of my underlinings and margin hand written commentary. When I read this in the Wall Street Journal, I knew I had to post it here.
A Secondhand Book Is a $3 Time Machine
June 27, 2017 7:17 p.m. ET
My 16-year-old son loves to read as much as I do, but unlike me, he prefers to savor his nonfiction and novels on an electronic reader. Although I’m thrilled when any young person enjoys reading regardless of format, I wonder if my teenager is missing out on the joys of used books.
This came to mind recently when I attended a used-book sale. I go every year, and I often spot complete sets of Dickens, Twain or Poe labeled with the personal library seals of their former owners. When I find several volumes from the same donor, I can’t help but wonder if a household bookshelf has been emptied, perhaps because someone died or moved into a nursing home. I’ve come to regard the hints of personal history in these books as a sheltering presence, like lingering in an old church for an hour or two.
This year, for three bucks, I took home a first-edition copy of the American anthropologist Loren Eiseley’s 1975 memoir, “All the Strange Hours.” The first page bore an inscription: “To Gar. Christmas 1976. From Mickey.”
“Gar” sounded like a nickname, which made me feel as if I were eavesdropping on an intimate conversation. Within the fourth chapter, I found a longer message from Mickey, written in cursive on a yellowing sheet of loose-leaf paper: “Gar—I ended up having to send you my very own copy (still crackling new) of this because, believe it or not, I haven’t been able to get to the bookstore to get you a copy. Getting ready to wrap it for you, I started reading parts of it again. I know you will enjoy reading every page of it. Have a nice Christmas. Hope to see you soon. Greetings also to Peggy. Love, Mick.”
Secondhand books remind me that the world of reading spans time as readers reach across the years to shake hands with each other. Eiseley isn’t read much today, but before his death in 1977, he was a big deal. His books sold well and were eagerly anticipated, which Mickey’s note conveys. My vintage copy of “All the Strange Hours” had landed me in a yuletide some four decades ago, when Jimmy Carter had just defeated Gerald Ford for the presidency, and readers raw from raging inflation and Watergate would surely have found respite in reading a naturalist’s memoir.
In “84, Charing Cross Road,” Helene Hanff celebrated old books as torches passed between generations. “I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest,” she wrote. “The day Hazlitt came he opened to ‘I hate to read new books,’ and I hollered ‘Comrade!’ to whoever owned it before me.”
Like Hanff, I’ve opened old books and found some path a prior pilgrim has worn through the text. In my tattered copy of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own,” a reader I’ll never know penciled “integrity” throughout one chapter, inviting me to consider to what degree that single word might summarize Woolf’s sensibility.
I’ve been thinking about how I might extend my own greeting to some future soul through the books I’ll leave behind, as I turn each page of my old Eiseley, hoping, as I always do when I read, to touch the eternal.
Appeared in the June 28, 2017, print edition.