Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Things About Me: Old Used Books
In my childhood, I grew to love reading books. At one point, my mother passed along some older books she had had since she was a girl. They were "young adult" books and most were written in the 1920s.
Those books had a different charm than their contemporary counterparts, though we loved many modern favorite children's writers. The Nancy Drew series... Marguerite Henry, Walter Farley & Andersen's horse series...and others were regulars in our books stacks. But older chidren's books had a different charm. They spoke of a world we could only guess at, and were one of my first introductions to lives beyond my memory. In them, there were stark delineations between rich and poor, city and country, "modernity" and "the old ways." In them, a "modern" kitchen was one that had a working wood cookstove rather than an open fire. Factories figured largely into the working-class city jobs, and farming was the country folks' lot. Only the rich had cars and everyone else road the trains for long distance travel.
I still have some of those books, and I've picked up others along the way. They might not be to the satisfaction of most folks, since the writing relies heavily on vernacular accents, in most stories a parent dies and the older children have to find a way to keep the family together, and the setting is so very turn-of-the-century. There's no sex, no dating, they are either "girls' books" or "boys' books," and there is a lot of story line. Usually they're about having to survive a crisis by working hard, ingenuity, and returning to the country and "forgotten" country skills. (the seeds of this bent were planted early in my mind?? :)) I absolutely love them!
I've actually learned a lot by reading period literature, even children's literature. I won't elaborate here, but there's nothing quite like reading about farm life around the turn of the century, written contemporary to that date.
One of my favorite pasttimes is to frequent used book stores, though I've curbed my buying considerably during at this time. It's hard to narrow down the sorts of books I like to find there...I love all sorts...but I always manage to peruse the children's section for some of these "young adult" antique books, and older fairy tale and legend collections...it seems the older ones are better, unless they're straight up Victorian...I don't care for them as much since they are fairly over-dramatic and seem to talk down to kids. One thing that is a sure hook to me, though maybe not to others, is any writing I find in the book. If I see it dedicated to someone, or find handwriting, it fascinates me. The bindings and covers also draw me in.
Here is an old book with some great "quirks," obviously a girls' book, called Breakneck Farm, by Evelyn Raymond. I bought probably for only that reason...in fact, I don't remember when or where I got it. It's literally yellowed and falling apart, some pages are missing (arghh!), it's about orphans who are given a chance to make it on a farm (and do), and at the beginning or end of each chapter, some either bored or diligent person practiced writing their ABCs..and numbers...with an ink pen you have to dip in an inkwell. It's from the 1920s and an ad for other similar books (listed in the back) prices each volume at 75 cents.
Here's the cover. You can see the book is worse for the wear...but it's treasured by us, as is.
Here's an example of their number practice:
And letter practice:
And another mystery...is this the name of this girl's parents...or is it wishful thinking as she pairs her own name with that of a schoolmate crush?
I wonder what ever happened to Rose and Elmer Poole. Were they sweethearts, or was that adolescent wishful thinking? Did Rose go on to marry a Wilbur, and did Elmer marry a Euphemia? (Yes, that's an actual name in one of my old books...) In the scribbles that still inhabit these pages, there are hidden stories...far more fascinating to me than the actual book...and one I'll always have to fall back on my imagination to suppose their endings...
Do you have some favorite old books? Do you love seeing the evidence of lives that cross paths as handwriting on their pages?
As for me, it's one of my favorite things...:)