Monday, April 1, 2013


In March, my husband took a little trip to New York state, and brought back with him some rescues from a warehouse that was abandoned and about to be repurposed.

Books. Orphaned books left behind in the rush or perhaps deemed not worth transplanting in new digs.  My husband brought a handful of them home because their faded hardcovers pricked his soul. He knew they'd be loved and cared for in our home.

Among the treasure were two volumes of poetry: the slim Academy Classics/Selected Poems of Pope, Gray, Goldsmith (1899), a badly neglected copy of Longfellow poems, the tattered pages of which remind me of a homesteader's family Bible (the copyright is missing, but one Beulah C. Hitzel kindly wrote on the first page that she received the volume in 1919), and an illustrated copy of Ivanhoe (1903) designed to assist the student understand the history and geography of the time in which the story is set.

I took one look at the battered, raggedy things and understood immediately why they moved my husband enough to risk paying an overweight luggage fee to bring them home.

It's not that I have some fantastic insight into the reasons these books/stories have endured the ages. That's not why I'm writing this today. I suppose what I would like most is to sit beside you, thumb through and ooo and ahh at the familiar strangeness of old words. Maybe dream a little about the people who read them before we did. Maybe just wonder about what the whole thing means.

Here, look:

The blue hardcover of Selected Poems. This was Viola Lawrence's book back when she attend Hamburg High. Later, Alice A. Schwartz pasted a sticker with her name on it on the back of the cover. Cheeky, don't you think?

The editors of the volume believed "that the added poems will materially assist the student to a fuller sympathy with the spirit of the respective authors and to a clearer comprehension of their time." Can their be any doubt they achieved their goal?

These editors rankle me. Look how unkind they are on page 69: "Apart from his career as an author, the life of Alexander Pope was uneventful." Hey now, wait just a minute. Uneventful? Says who? Makes you want to run out and do something eventful just to prevent future editors from saying this about you, doesn't it?

They weren't any kinder to Goldsmith, "Oliver's school-days were spent in idleness. At Trinity College (1744-1749) he did not mend his ways, and during the two years that followed his graduation he was contentedly dependant on the industry of his mother and the generosity of his friends." and "He lacked the force of character that would have enabled him to fix a definite purpose and carry it out."I shudder to think what history might make of my school days. Isn't it interesting that the world wants very much the product of the minds of people very creative and different, but wants those who possess such minds to act like everyone else? Still, they must have liked the guy in the end since he's included in the volume.

Ivanhoe wobbles from page one: "The purpose of this edition is not to supplant the teacher, but to lessen, if possible his duties. To do this by placing in the hand of the pupil such historical material and suggestions for study, with questions upon the text, as he will be expected to answer." Gee, thanks fellas. Their hearts were in the right place, though, as they explain a bit further down the page, "Experience has also shown that comparatively few pupils have access in their homes to a large dictionary, or to other reference books, and that the school library does not always furnish these in numbers sufficient for the pupils desiring to use them."

Can you see the flocks of desperate students descending on the library, desperate and a little angry at having to line up for a peek into the large dictionary? Well, Josephene Ruda from study room 102, and Aloise Hiedrowski from study room 112 were not among those disparaging crowds, I can tell you that much. Both these ladies took full advantage of this book. Oh how they must have giggled and hugged themselves with glee knowing they had been spared the agony of non-access to knowledge.

I like The Companion Books, Longfellow Poems best. Three pages listing the contents of the book,
followed by 487 pages of poetry. No need to comment on the stuff, just read and see how it goes. That's pure enough isn't it? Doesn't it say so much that they've compiled all this works into one place? Isn't that enough to prove they are worth reading, studying, memorizing? This book belonged to Beulah C. Hitzel in 1919, but someone, at some point, wrote below her name in pencil, "Yesterday with some authors. Fields." No idea. But I hope it has some wonderful meaning. I'm going to pretend it does.

Thanks for meandering through with me today.

Have you rescued orphaned books? Stumbled upon a thrift store classic? Do you have a heart for ratty old hardcovers? Will you spend some time thumbing through a forgotten book? Let us read over your shoulder a minute, too.


Megan Sayer said...

Oh man, don't we all love old books like that? I have a fair collection, although sometimes I think I love them for their smell, and the stories - like the ones you tell here - more so than their original contents.
My favourite old book would have to be one I bought at a church jumble sale when I was fourteen. It cost me all of twenty cents, and it was the most fascinatingly dark and macabre book I'd ever read (and I was a Stephen King reader). I loved it. I can (unfortunately) still quote huge chunks of it. The thing I particularly loved though was the fact that it was MINE, that those characters were mine, MY friends, and nobody else knew them That book was my very own, twenty-cent, secret world, and the feeling that nobody else knew this world but me was quite exhilarating. That's the power in second-hand books.

Cherry Odelberg said...


Jennifer Major said...

My dad arrived in Canada in 1964. I was born in '63, long story.
He lived in a boarding house run by an old lady named Winnie Higginson. Only, Winnie wasn't your average old gal. She ran away in 1918 to Africa, at the height of WW1 to be a missionary. I have her trunk. And two of her books. One is an 1894 volume called "The Soul's Cry and the Lord's Answer". Another is her 1925 copy of the New Testament and the Psalms. I have no idea how long she was in Africa, or where, prhaps I should ask my dad. But Winnie was a fireball and I'm honoured to have her books.

Kathy said...

I have a boxful of books awaiting at my late brother's home to go through when I visit in May. Most are poetry books, some novels and a few Spanish texts to help me learn the language. All in all, I feel privileged to share in my brother's bounty and to read in remembrance of his life that stored so many books that now are orphaned.

V. Gingerich said...

Bravo to your husband! I love a book rescuer.

I am rich. I have Grandpa's boyhood copy of Robinson Crusoe, with pages like onion skins. I have many of Mom's old books about heroines in poodle skirts and saddle shoes. I have a gorgeously bound book of poems by Edgar A. Guest, chosen by my dad, who dislikes poetry but knew I'd love it. And I have a book of black and white photos and quotes, with a handwritten love letter on the cover page. My brother bought that one for me second hand, knowing I'd swoon over that mysterious letter.

Lori Benton said...

I love this, Bonnie. Thanks for sharing the tantalizing glimpses into those particular books' history. I buy a lot of used books for my research. Many of them are quite old. Some come from libraries across the country (discarded from their collection), and I like that. Others come from used book stores, now and then I end up ordering one from Blackwells, in England. I received one such book back in February, a copy of Culloden by John Prebble, complete with two photos once belonging to a previous owner pasted on the inside cover board. I was so moved by these photos (both old enough that if I wrote about the people in them I'd be writing historical fiction), I blogged about it. I would so much like to know why these photos were left in the book, what happened to these men, why the book left their possession. Many other things. I'll cherish it, and wonder.

The post, for more details:

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Nothing makes me happier than finding a favourite author from 190- and the leaves or flowers or sometimes a single strand of hair between the pages. Finger prints and food stains prove the story was too good to trade for lunch. Wherever I go in the world you will find me in a second had bookshop. As I posted earlier I have Boswell's Life of Johnson (1929) with me on holiday. Also Chaucer's Canterbury. Tales.
Thanks, Bonnie. This was a great post.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

My reproduction of the Canterbury Tales was first published in 1908 though this is the 1936 edition.
Within its pages I found a handmade book mark, blue georgette, painted with pink rosebuds, Marked in gold caligraphy: Think of Me. And the front page is torn out, likely with a romantic inscription too tender for posterity's eyes.
The editor is A Burrell.
"For, let writers deny it as they will, to the modern Englishman, and still more to the modern Englishwoman, Chaucer is a sealed book."
Sigh. It would be insulting if it weren't true.
I thought this quote from Lowell, who was quoting Chaucer, described every serious writer:
"Through me men go into that blisful place
Of hertes helth, and dedly woundes cure;
Through me men go unto the welle of Grace
Where grene and lusty May shal ever endure.
This is the way to al good aventure.
Be glad then, reader, and thy sorrow off-caste.
Al open am I, pass in and speed thee faste."

Megan Sayer said...

Henrietta your first comment reminded me of the first book I ever bought from Amazon, back in the very early days of my involvement with the internet - maybe 1997. It was a second hand paperback edition of Ray Kinsella's marvellous "Shoeless Joe" (which I have since lost...grrrr), but it had - wonder of wonders - imprints of writing on the cover. Somebody had once used this book as a hard surface while they scrawled a note, an address, a shopping list. Somebody I'd never met, from the other side of the WORLD no less. I loved it for that, for the magic of connecting people. Gosh, it's easy to see now a Facebook addict in the making!

Bonnie Grove said...

Loved reading all these comments. Sorry I was so quiet, I was travelling and when I tried to post with my iPhone I messed up. Better stick to the printed word, eh?

Thanks all for the trip down memory lane!