Carl’s Library: Salamina

Our friends at the Rocky Mountain Land Library have been sharing photos of a few of the wonderful books in their vast collection, set against the scenic backdrop of the Buffalo Peaks Ranch. Though my own library is much, much smaller, and the view from my apartment is not nearly as inspiring, I’d like to follow their lead and occasionally show you some of the beautiful old books occupying my shelves—particularly, books about exploration (that is, exploration back in the glory days before GPS, digital cameras and North Face jackets). I have many books about the American West, Canada, and the high latitudes of the polar regions; books about journeys of discovery over unforgiving terrain and survival in dangerous weather conditions, books about boundless tracts of wild land and the flora & fauna therein, books about indigenous people living in harmony with nature, books written by those who have successfully explored and charted unmapped territory, and books about those who died in the attempt. I’m able to experience the wilderness for only a few weeks out of each year; I’m happy that I can read and dream about it during my time at home.

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Recently, during an email conversation about books, my friend remarked that a book she’d read at a young age had just popped into her head for some reason. It was a story about life, love, nature and culture, accompanied by striking illustrations. She revealed that the book had changed her life. That book was Salamina by artist and writer Rockwell Kent…

I was surprised that I had never heard of this book, or the author. From my friend’s glowing description, I knew that I had to see it for myself. And because the artwork is a key component of the book, I decided that I wanted to get a nice copy; thanks to the internet, I was able to find a 1935 first edition in great shape, and reasonably priced. It is the most recent addition to my library…

The book tells of the author’s life among the native population of Igdlorssuit, Greenland in 1931-32. He went there not just to live and explore, but also to paint and draw. Like my friend, I enjoy the pen & ink drawings opening each chapter and the many full-page portraits done in Conté crayon…

I hadn’t gone far into the book before I realized that I was very happy with my purchase, and grateful that my friend had brought this title to my attention. And I knew that I would be acquiring more books by Rockwell Kent the moment I read this wonderful passage:

Let all your dreams have been of warmth and tropical luxuriance; let what at last is given you be bare, bleak, cold, in every way unlike your thoughts of earthly paradise, your chameleon soul cries out, “By God, I love this barrenness!” Why otherwise have men gone out from comfort, from the pleasures of city life, from all the cultivated beauty of a developed countryside, and in hardship and poverty, in unremitting labor, in all the hard conditions of some frontier life, found happiness? Why do men love the wilderness? For its mountains?—there may be none. For its forests, lakes, and rivers?—it might be a desert; men would love it still. Desert, the monotonous ocean, the unbroken snow-fields of the North, all solitudes, no matter how forlorn, are the only abiding-place on earth of liberty.

Beautifully stated, Mr. Kent. And quite true.

Illustrations and text: Copyright 1935 by Rockwell Kent.

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)

Kindle? Not In My House

This story has nothing to do with the Pontiac. Rather, it is about the way that I explore North America—and beyond—when I’m not behind the wheel…

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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, and both continue to grow: my vinyl and my books. Since I do need them and I do use them, they’re not going anywhere. When I’m not exploring the wonders of the world outside these walls, it’s likely that I’m indulging my love for music or my love for the printed word.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)