A very early memory takes me to a place that must have been near Detroit, since that’s where I grew up during the 1950’s. The smell of what I now know to be old books hit my olfactory the moment my aunt and I stepped over the threshold. Leather, paper, cigarette smoke and dust mingled into a heady fragrance that to this day, minus the smoke, provokes a visceral response in me. Used book stores introduced me to the love of books. The introduction to new book stores came shortly after, but new books don’t have the same appeal.
As adults, wherever we traveled began with a search for a book store. I’ve been to book stores in New Orleans, Wichita Falls, and Sacramento and many more places across the country. Back in those days, customers weren’t allowed to bring beverages in, unlike today where they are sold next to the books. Books were reverenced.
I am somewhat of a book hoarder, too. A scene from my marriage has a very concerned and almost angry husband asking me why I needed to bring ‘moldy’ paperback books into our house. On a weekend antiquing jaunt, I’d happened across a gentleman who was downsizing his own sizable book collection which included a complete set of the paperback Mentor Philosopher Series. I’ve got ’em all; Spinoza, Bacon and Pascal to name a few. Then came the great anthropologists. Margaret Mead is my favorite, (didn’t they disclaim some of her observations twenty years ago?) She was all sex and culture, all of the time.
I also have all of the Greek classics. In paperback. I think Jim must be a book snob because a few years later, maybe in the early eighties, he signed on for the Franklin Mint Library book club. Or maybe he was hoping his purist attitude would wear off on me. It never did. Those shining, gold-leafed fly-leafed tomes make my garage sale finds look shabby, but they are behind glass and anyone can pick up one of my used books and curl up with a cup of tea for an afternoon without worrying about ruining it.
My aunt sent me the complete works of Dumas; forty red leather bound volumes of bliss. I also have an ancient Gibbons The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, a very early Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, and Winston Churchill’s The History of the English Speaking Peoples. I have these books; I have NOT read them. My taste leans toward Pearl Buck, Betty Smith and compilations by Alfred Hitchcock. (Insert laughter here.) Odd that my own writing tends to be more like a down at the heels Jackie Collins. (with all due respect.)
My books also reflect what I was doing at different stages of my life. I have an extensive library of Christian literature. My friends and family have learned that it isn’t wise to argue with me about the Bible; I know what it says and when things have been taken out of context. Two entire bookcases are filled with books relating to yarn. I have every weaving book that was published between 1975 and 1980 because I had a store that sold weaving supplies. I no longer weave, but I don’t think I should part with the books. I also have lots of knitting books; I like looking at the pictures, and many dyeing, spinning, and surface design books.
I have a friend who has cataloged her books. At one time that idea appealed to me, but now I realize it would take up too much time. Imagine being able to put your hand on any volume you need. I can almost do that without the organization.
The only regrets I have are having loaned books out. I no longer do that. If you have ever received books from me its because I love you and want you to have them. By the time I give a book up, I am so done with it. It might be taunting me. Read me again. Or worse, read me the first time. And I might have no intention. Or it might be something from my past that I know I will not revisit. A past loved hobby, for instance.
One thing I should probably not admit is that the Jenkins’ family receives something from Amazon two or three times a week. Scary. It is sad that the independents are threatened by such a huge and inexpensive online presence. But one thing Amazon will never replace is the used book store. We have a fabulous used store in South Haven. The proprietress is rude, at least to me, but it is so worth suffering through it to browse in the shop.
Last month, when I was in California for a few days, I went to a used store in Santa Cruz with my Aunt Yvonne and her friend, Bruce. It was truly a reverent experience. The place was huge, it was open late at night, but we couldn’t stay too long because there was no bathroom to be found. I could have stayed there for hours, so maybe the lack of facilities was a good thing.
My mother was a lover of books. I argued with her to get rid of a huge collection of books she’d moved from her antique shop back to her house when the shop closed. After she died, my sister gave me the job of going through the books and getting rid of them. It should have been easy, correct? I hounded the poor woman for ten years about giving them away. And you know what happened? I could only get rid of one. One book. So if she is up there reading this, I’m sorry, Mom. I know exactly what you were thinking.
I bought home a ten pound Landmarks of Detroit, and old cookbooks to add to my vast cookbook collection. (I don’t cook.)
Most other things I resisted, for now. My mom would be happy to know I am unable to get rid of her books! It was a joy we shared.
Today I am going to write. I haven’t done any new writing in months; its been about revising and editing. The second book just came out last month and third one will be ready in a few weeks. I feel like I should stall it a little bit, because there won’t be another for quite awhile.
Speaking of, I have a new editor! My daughter, Jennifer! Jen’s second degree is in fiction writing and she actually did some editing at her first job out of college. I’m psyched!
Back to work!
Your blog today struck a real cord in me. My dad (whose birthday was yesterday) was a rare book dealer, and I used to fill in at the desk for him on Saturday mornings when he went to auctions. Usually I had an infant or toddler with me. Sometimes I was alone. Business was usually slow, and I had hours to read and discover. I usually came home with something. Some of my favorite books have my dad’s handwriting in them, prices he was selling them for. I don’t remember actually paying for very many; he wouldn’t let me. He has been gone 9 years now, and I miss him terribly.