Sunday, August 19, 2007
Old Books and Me
There is nothing like a good old-fashioned library book sale: piles of books in no particular order, treasures and "must reads" from a few years ago that are now so greatly discounted you know you have to buy them and read them, and other "must haves" to tuck away for friends. This weekend is our town's big annual get-together (also known as "Old Home Day") and the highlight for me is the annual Friends of the Library booksale. I would never miss the annual August book sale--for the books as much for the encounters with people I hardly see the rest of the year.
I was quickly rewarded with several cookbooks and even a green wooden recipe box from the 1930s stocked with vintage recipes (for $1). The next morning I went back when it was less crowded and found even more things I had missed--one of our sons and our daughter came along, too, and found some treasures. Then, before the sale's afternoon closing, I returned again for the $1 a bag sale and walked out with two brimming bags of paperbacks and other overlooked "must reads". All told, I spent about $40 on books (an average of about $1 per item!) and for an excellent cause. Instead of incinerating the remainders, a bookdealer couple comes and takes them all, selling some and donating others to hospitals and nursing homes. [Literacy is on my mind now especially as I realize how small the library is in the town where our home will be in Kentucky--in a retail plaza, no less. Perhaps I can donate a lot of our own books there or help in the library. Here ours is so well-cared for that I'm best off in the sidelines writing and reading.]
I really didn't NEED any more books but I found special joy in finding some special favorites for my daughter who is about to venture off to college (including James Joyce's PORTRAIT of the ARTIST as a YOUNG MAN, a decent copy of THE SILVER PALATE GOODTIMES COOKBOOK and THE CAKE BIBLE, which she loves to make recipes from--as I'm not ready to give her my own copies!) and other books that I know I will read and pass along or that were selected with friends in mind. A few are definitely keepers like a hardback edition of THE COUNTRY of the POINTED FIRS by Sarah Orne Jewett (with an introduction by another Maine writer, Mary Ellen Chase), and a first edition of THE PILGRIM at TINKER CREEK by Annie Dillard, which I am embarrassed to say I've never read.
Several other great finds were some FARM JOURNAL cookbooks from the 1960s and a decent hardback edition of Helen Witty's FANCY PANTRY (my paperback copy is not going to last forever, after all, or I can pass it along) and some metaphysical books I wanted to read ten years ago but didn't want to buy. And then, just when I thought I had every Louis Bromfield book ever written--one of my favorite back-to-the-land authors-- there was ANIMALS and OTHER PEOPLE, a memoir about his extended family of Boxer dogs who lived on his Ohio farm and followed him everywhere in the house and grounds (much to his wive's displeasure, according to the guide--and obvious carpet stains--on the tour we had of Malabar Farm several years ago). So not only is it a back-to-the-land book, one of my favorite genres, but it is a memoir about boxers, who are very similar to our dear bull mastiff Lucy who will be 11 in another week.
I figured out yesterday that the reason I like to stockpile cupboards and pantries and freezers is as much the same reason that I like to have good books all around me. It is a sense of comfort and assurance that I will be well-fed and nourished by literature and knowledge as much as good food. Both are different kinds of sustenance for the spirit, mind and body.
I have books that I have bought but not read and others that I return to again and others that I read and give away. My books have been an accumulation, like so many other things, and are as much old friends as are the people who have given them to me (of course I still have all of my books from childhood--and all of the kids' books from their ongoing childhoods--can't we ALL just have ongoing childhoods?). However, I may finally let go of some of my college and grad school textbooks, especially as most haven't been cracked in 20+ years.
Other books are just delights to find, to see and hold, or to organize on the shelves by category (yes, there is that perpetual impulse). Perhaps that is why I frequent used book stores--for the books I love or think I need--more than any other book place. I want to bring them home as much as I wonder where they've been. A book, like a person, has a past.
And just like a full pantry for a blizzard or other disaster, a ready home library provides the kind of sustained pleasure and joy of not having to go anywhere but here, cozied up with a good book.