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 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 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 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...:)


Anonymous said...

Love the new look! And I can relate to this post, I have a love affair with old books too, especially farm related ones. We have some belongings of Eric's grandparents and great grandparents in a storage room upstairs. Among them are old books with things written in them as well. I could sit around all day flipping through them, and imagining the lives they led.

Carla said...

What a great book, Robbyn! New books were a scarcity when I was growing up. We made full and good use of the local branch of the public library (open only on Friday afternoons).

But I still have & cherish the very first new book I of my own, received as a gift for Christmas in the 50s: An Illustrated Treasury of Nature. One chapter begins with the poem "Tiger, Tiger, burning bright, in the forests of the night..."

I still buy children's books - I tell myself they're to read to my grandchildren, but... One I particularly like is "Grandma Summer" by Harley Jessup.

Okay - I'm about to get long-winded here, so I'll stop. Thank you for sharing this wonderful book!

jayedee said...

every now and again, i'll remember a particularly loved volume from my childhood and go in seach of it. i've found quite a few via ebay and each time a package comes, it's like christmas for me. remember the old bobbsey twin books? (the originals not the newer ones) i loved them...still do!
reminders of a gentler time, they are still nice to curl up with!

Robbyn said...

Angie, thanks! It's like rearranging the furniture...I like change :)

Oh, your farm-related books are a treasure...what fun :)

Carla, We were library-heads, too, growing up. The Nature Treasury sounds children's books more than most kids I know :)

Jayedee, my sis had the bobbsey twins books...I love to go a=hunting on ebay, too :)

TOCCO said...

One of my favorite books, an old one of my mothers that always sat on a bookcase or shelf as long as I can remember, was Little Women by Louisa May Allcott..... I wonder where that book is now.

Robbyn said...

Christina, I loved the Alcott books, too! Wow..isn't it neat that certain books seem to continue to have a wide appeal? I always loved story time as a child, and I think most folks never grow out of loving to hear or read a great story :)

MommaofMany said...

I have many, many old books. I'll post soon about some of my favorite. I did post about my very oldest one recently:

Verde said...

Great new design on your blog - I'm still trying to figure out how to do such things.

I love old books and when I used to spend time at my grandparents old cabin (the sort of place were curtains divided the rooms and there was a wood cook stove and an outhouse) there were also old books - some square like a block of wood.

It's only now that I think about getting another set of Laura Engles Wilder books.

TOCCO said...

PS.... did I tell you I love the new design...(where did you find the time!>?) ((((((to you and Jack))))

jayedee said...

psssssst! love the new look!

Farmgirl_dk: said...

I have so many happy childhood memories of books I spent time with. My grandparents, who lived about 6 hours away, had an (exotic) upstairs closet, tucked away at the end of a hallway, that was literally filled with old books - I would spend hours in there as a child, absolutely fascinated with the dust jackets and pictures and titles - wondering who had read them before me. They all just felt more substantial than the books I had at home. I have some of those books in my own collection now...probably more dust catchers than anything at this point, but still so meaningful to me.

I love thinking about the story of Rose and Elmer Poole.

Granny Sue said...

I am over the sorting of book donations to the library. I love old books, but almost more interesting are the things left in the books. Someday I need to write a post about that.

I also find the notes, handwriting and prices written in old books fascinating. some of the penmanship is just lovely.

Carolyn said...

Oh..... I love that book of yours.

Love the new look of the Blog too!

Killi said...

I love books & old books. I have my maternal grandmother's 1912 (I think) edition of The Water Babies as-told-to-the-children, so a simplified version with incredible pictures & her school prize label inside the front cover. I have my paternal grandmother's needlework books & some from an Anglo-Catholic priest, including a housekeeping/cookery book he'd acquired that had been presented as a prize to a member of the Alhambra Brotherhood & is turn of the 20th Century, & a 1546 PrayerBook.

I loved Edith Nesbit's books & my son borrowed all my copies to read them as he loved those too. I buy children's books for ME as well as Annon.

I have a Darwin facsimile & an old Welsh Pilgrim's Progress (Taith y Pererin) & duoglot Bible (English & old literary Welsh). I've been lucky enough to have 2 authors sign their books for me & to be present at a children's book award ceremony as staff with the awarding body (there were 2 of us!)

I just love books: Hi, I'm Killi & I'm a bookaholic...