As I’ve aged, I’ve become more and more keen on minimalism within my living space. I hate clutter, and I’m not a fan of owning stuff; if I don’t need it and use it, out it goes. Also, I’m not a collector…that is, not in the hobby or investment sense. There are, in fact, two “collections” in my home: my maps and my books. Since I do need them and I do use them, they’re not going anywhere. When my maps and I are not exploring the wonders of the world outside these walls, it’s likely that I’m indulging my love for the printed word.
My library is not overloaded with obvious titles…the classics that are known to everyone; I do have many of those, but I also have a boatload of obscure material. There are millions of old books out there worth reading, even though the titles aren’t familiar to most people, or to me. I take chances. If a book is truly awful, I’ll trade it in at my favorite bookstore. That doesn’t happen often; most of them, I keep, as I enjoy reading a book more than once and finding things that I didn’t fully appreciate the first time through, and I’ll often use a book as a guide when I want to visit interesting places that the story brought to my attention.
I love the process of discovery; one book leads me to another book by that author, or to another author that was referenced; one book introduces me to a place or a person or an event, and I seek out other books on those subjects to learn even more. And my library grows.
Nearly every book I own, I purchased used. I don’t shop at chain bookstores and I’m not interested in “best seller” lists. I buy the occasional used copy of a recent release, if the subject appeals to me, but I especially love old books…books written before my time. The majority of my collection falls in the 1875 to 1975 range. And I do like tracking down the oldest copy of a title that I can find. Mind you, I’m not a fanatic about it; I don’t scour every corner of the globe looking exclusively for pricey first editions. I have several firsts, and I have plenty of second, third, sixth, and Nth printings, but they were located through a simple search process, either from local used bookstores or from eBay, Alibris, et al, and they were purchased at reasonable prices. There are only two books in my collection that were priced above $99.
Paperbacks have never appealed to me; the ones I have are only there because a hardcover edition was never printed. They just don’t hold the same magic as a well-read hardbound beauty. For me, reading is not solely a process of absorbing information; I’m also charmed by the romance of the book itself…its weight, its scent, the feel of the boards, the texture of high-quality vintage paper and printing, the delicate fold-out maps in my books on exploration, the beautiful plates and illustrations on thick, glossy paper.
And there is the occasional thought of others who have held this same book…people long since gone. How did they get the book? Did they enjoy it? Reminders of their presence range from simple inscriptions inside the front cover to the beautiful note I found, written on monogrammed stationery, still tucked between the pages of one of my books, from Julia to her brother, dated December 25, 1911.
An old book has a personality, something which no digital device could ever capture.
Recently, a friend shared this link to a wonderful story about the Rocky Mountain Land Library. Reading about this project made me realize that I want to make arrangements for the disposition of my books; I have no kids to leave them to, and I’d rather they not end up in an estate sale. Perhaps this library, or one of a similar nature, would welcome the donation; my collection contains many vintage books about the Old West.
Copyright 1898 by The Macmillan Company, Assigned 1899 to Crane & Company, Topeka.
(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)