Like Jason's Facebook Page

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Lost Books of my Youth

One of the many overloaded
bookshelves in our home.
Lately I've been spending a great deal of time thinking about books.  I know, this is hardly a surprise to those of you who know me or read this blog on a regular basis.  But I'm not just talking about writing books, or even reading books.  I'm talking about a collection of books I used to have when I was younger.  Let me explain.

When I was a kid, oh, like thirty-plus years ago, I can remember when it really started for me.  I was at a flea market, a really big one.  And as I walked past tables and tables of old farm implements (you know, the really scary looking ones that are used in all the slasher flicks) and used sewing machines and vintage toys and rusted old signs (this was before all the signs were reproductions), I came to a stop at a table with a bunch of old books mashed together with their spines facing the open sky.  It was a wonderful sight and I forgot all about the other vendors and settled in to look at those old tomes.

All of them were hardbacks.  I don't think any of them had dust jackets on them.  Just plenty of beautiful cloth covered books with titles imprinted on their spines.  Often the front cover was blank; a soft blue, or stark green, or even a faded red.

I don't remember how it was I had money in my pocket, but I must have had some.  Perhaps my parents had given me a few dollars to spend that day.  I was too young to be earning anything at that time.  But I was so entranced by these books, and they were so cheap, that I bought a good number of them.  An old Ben-Hur was among them; with a solid dark green cover, it had a fancy illustration on the front cover made of gold an silver leafing.  I knew it wasn't real, but it was dazzling to see.  A great big Robert Louis Stevenson volume of The Wrecker, which I'd never heard of, and a strange little book entitled The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.  I'd never heard of that before either.  I certainly had no idea what an autocrat was.  Why I picked that book I cannot remember.  But pick it I did, and it became a mysterious member of my collection.

Over time, I began to seek out more old books; a great big blue Gone With the Wind, a Vanity Fair by Thackeray, a slim volume of W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, and other odd, strange, and delightful titles.  I read a great deal back then, but I rarely read much of the hardback collection I had gathered.  The edition of The Wrecker couldn't be read.  Many of the pages had not been cut.  This fascinated me, I had no idea books were printed like this, and I often pulled it out to try and peer in between the pages that were uncut.  This was always a challenge.

Eventually I amassed about forty or fifty hardbacks that became something of a burden on my family.  We moved more often than the average family, and boxing up and moving these books was a bit of a problem.  Lugging boxes of hardback books up and down stairs is a memorable experience, to say the least.  However, I don't recall my parents complaining about them, and they stayed with me until I married.  I still regret the fact that I loaded most of them up and sold them to a used books store one day so that we could make the rent payment early in our marriage.  I really didn't get much for them.  Pretty much nothing at all.  Of the ones I held onto, most of them were ruined when hurricane Rita blew through the back of our home in 2005.  They ended up in a pile of wet pulpy trash on the side of the road.

The survivors.  By the way, whatever happened to Thomas B. Costain?
When I was a kid, there was always a wide selection of his books
in every library.  I suppose he was the James Patterson of his day.
Searching the stacks and stacks of books I've accumulated since I married, I can only find a few of the original (and to me, infamous!) hardbacks.  I still have that Gone With the Wind, and a rather gaudy looking The Silver Chalice.  One of my favorites from that collection, and one of the few that had a dust cover, was Thomas B. Costain's The Tontine.  (This was the first of two volumes.  I never did own the second, though I read them both.  I can't remember where I finally found the second volume.  Must have been a library, since I didn't buy it.  After all these years, I can finally buy the second volume for a few dollars on Amazon Marketplace.  Maybe one day I will.)

I read all three of those books.  Of the others I had collected, I read The Moon is Down by Steinbeck (a wonderful book!), and maybe only one or two others.  I read a little from the collected works of Washington Irving.  But many of these old books were so old, the pages were brittle and I was not too keen on ruining them.  It was as if I had become like the Eloi, from H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, existing side by side with the great literature of mankind yet never reading them as they slowly decayed into nothingness.  Actually, a number of them I actually did read, but I used volumes from the library so as not to cause undue damage to the older hardbacks.

I have a newer collection of books now; hundreds of books are scattered throughout my house.  I don't move anymore.  Or haven't for some time, which is a good thing considering the total weight of books in our house.  A little more than half of the books I have now I've read.  There are a few that I haven't read and will never read.  But getting rid of them is hard.  I still bear the scars from that trip to the used bookseller to pay the rent.  But I still enjoy looking over the titles, some with fond memories of what I'd read in them, some with the excitement of not yet knowing what is in them.

Most of my reading is done on a Kindle now.  I can carry all of the books I've ever read and ever want to read in that one, slim digital device.  Yet I'll always cherish the books that clutter up the house.  They're important.  I expect my grandchildren to grow up around them, occasionally pulling them out and paging through them with curiosity and wonder.  I'd be disappointed if they didn't.  They were always here for my kids, and I know it had an effect on them.  You can't grow up in a house full of books and not be influenced by them.

Now I've got to go finish the latest book I'm reading.  I've collected over thirty titles on my Kindle that I have yet to read and I really need to get to them.  So many little time.

No comments:

Post a Comment