Tag Archives: book collecting

Books and More Books

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” –Cicero

The battle between my love of books and reading and the need to avoid old, dusty, musty treasure-tomes wages on. Like most who are on the wagon of no-more-old-books, I do pretty well until I come face-to-face with a heap of them, and then–despite my efforts to resist–too often I succumb to temptation.

I shall blame it on improved health–or the sinus condition that prevents me from realizing just how musty a book really is until it’s too late and I am dragging it home with a mixture of guilt, defiance, joy, and anticipation. To have to chuck it aside when I open it and start reading the first page . . . oh, that hurts.

To have to not only lay it aside, unread, but to seal it up inside a Ziploc baggie hurts even more.

But worst of all is to find a treasure, a book once read and lost, a book that cries out as if to an old friend, a book like a stray puppy with soulful eyes that begs to be taken home and given a safe, warm, dry, secure place on a bookshelf–only to accept that it is in no condition to come home with me.

“I cannot live without books.” –Thomas Jefferson

So it was this past weekend. I was out and about, enjoying the unseasonably hot weather, when I stumbled upon a trove of old books. And not just any old books–the kind best burned rather than dredged from the damp corners of old garages, black and swollen with mold–but instead a collector’s collection, a lifetime’s accumulation of really good reads, a reader’s collection above and beyond an antiquarian’s.

Of course there was a smattering of Victorian volumes with ornate covers, a sprinkling of Edwardian romances with color renderings of Gibson-girl-type heroines glued to their covers, and the requisite books of the Old West that always come highly priced. But the real treasure was to be found past all those temptations, when I found box after box of books by authors I had long ago discovered in my childhood spent among public library shelves, books long since faded from print, books that inspired wonderful old movies now seen only on TCM or not at all.

The first title that leaped at me was LORD HORNBLOWER by C.S. Forester. I pounced with an inner burst of excitement. At that moment, I was thinking of how I struggled in college to assemble a complete set of the Hornblower sea-faring adventures in hardcover on my meager pittance of a monthly allowance. I was thinking also of how I was forced to throw out that set after the house-flood, when the bottom shelves of my entire library suffered damage. And I was thinking with glee, I can assemble another set. Look!

But even as such thoughts flashed through my mind, I knew the heartbreaking truth. I lifted the book and it was too musty for my tolerance level. Back in the box it went. I had to turn away, unable to save it from the awful fate that happens to unwanted books both good and bad.

Another table, another box, more treasure. For now I found a first-edition Pearl S. Buck, and a first-American-edition T. H. White, then moved on to Samuel Shellabarger’s CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE, Rafael Sabatini’s SEAHAWK, Hull’s THE SHEIK, early Grace Livingston Hill, and a Mary Roberts Rinehart mystery that I’d never read.

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island.”

–Walt Disney

Did I buy any of these old friends? Oh yes, a few. The mystery stayed in my hands. I couldn’t bring myself to administer the sniff test lest my heart break then and there. I know it’s probably too musty for me to read, because nearly all the old Rineharts I find seem to fox and molder, and yet I so hunger for her fiction that I will face that defeat if and when necessary. White came home, clean and acceptable, but Sabatini did not. Shellabarger did not. But I will be able to ride across the sands once more with a desert sheik.

[In the night, I promised myself that I would return on reduction day. I could give some of them a second chance. Maybe they weren’t as bad as I thought. No doubt I’d missed several and overlooked others. It’s always best to come back and look again. After all, even if I couldn’t keep them, surely I could harbor them in my garage and find them good homes by selling them to others. However, to my disappointment, I could not return for the discounts. A forty-degree temperature drop in the weather and the threat of a sore throat kept me home. Developing a cold, or administering too many sniff tests for book mold, who can say?]

Are the authors I’ve mentioned completely forgotten? (Not all, perhaps, but surely some.) Are they even recognized? Do their names still resound with readers? They are long gone, their works out of print, their adventures and imagination so much dust. And yet how good they were and are. How deserving to be read still, to ignite the minds of children and adults alike.

While I was looking and grabbing and oohing and laughing over being reunited with old friends, I spoke briefly with a young father who was digging as avidly for treasure as I. His attention was divided, however, by having to watch his four-year-old son. The young man asked me if I was a collector, and when I said, yes, told me of his favorites and shared a find with me that he said he already owned. I thought of how lucky that little boy is, to have a father that loves books so much. What discoveries they will share. What places they will visit in their imaginations if only the child will learn the value of reading and won’t succumb to so many other amusements now out there to ensnare and deflect him.

For I am always looking for the young readers-to-be, hoping they continue to come along. Without them, who is there to write for?



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Books, Books, and More Books

Today is a happy day. Felix Francis, son of mystery master Dick Francis, has a new mystery novel out, one featuring the best Francis character of all: Sid Halley. I first met Sid on a sunny autumn day in 1983. I’d signed up for a college class on mysteries. ODDS AGAINST was the first assignment. I was sitting in my car on my lunch break, munching on a tuna fish sandwich as I read the opening page and fell in love with Sid forever.

So far, Felix has done a good job of following in his father’s footsteps. The Dick Francis mystery franchise seems set to carry on for some time to come. And that suits me fine.

Sue Grafton’s “W” novel in her alphabet mysteries series is also due in stores today. I have fallen behind in reading the Grafton stories, but I have been faithfully buying each of them annually. What a monumental job, carrying on with 26 novels featuring the same protagonist. Way to go, Sue! Only three more to go. You can do it!

Earlier this summer, I mentioned in a post that I don’t allow myself to buy used books anymore due to my mold allergies. Well, two weeks ago, I fell off the wagon and bought a handsome old set of Bulwer-Lytton novels, circa 1892, quarter-bound in leather with illustrations. They have been sadly abused over the years, and when I found them at a junker’s overstock sale, they were heaped on a table outdoors in the baking sun. Some of them were broken; some intact. The seller gleefully told me he’d thought about removing the illustrations and selling those separately, but it was “too much trouble.” I bought them the way I would give a stray kitten a saucer of milk.

Someone has to save these relics of a more elegant and graceful life. Someone has to find them a better home.

It was like picking up an elderly gentleman who’d fallen in the gutter through no fault of his own and couldn’t quite stand up again.

So these books are now in my garage, awaiting a little leather polishing, until I can find a good home for them.

But as harmless as that act of salvage seemed, it opened a gate that I can’t seem to close. With Bulwer-Lytton residing in stately decay in my garage, I stumbled over a partial set of Abbey Girls novels by Elsie J. Oxenham, a series popular in Great Britain during the 1940s. I found them in an antiques/junk shop. The books were piled on a rickety table, obviously part of a series. They looked gentle and fun. They looked interesting. I succumbed in a mad splurge, refusing to even give them the “sniff” test for mustiness.

Now I dare not open them and breathe in their scent, so how will I read them? Alas. They called to me like sirens, and I could not resist their song tho I die for it.

This past weekend, I attended an estate sale liquidating the home of avid readers. There was the room filled with old, rare, and collectible books: Victorian authors, Edwardian authors, books with Art Nouveau cover illustrations, classics, and weighty old medical tomes. There was also the room of children’s books: picture books, chapter books, YA adventures, and an entire set of Nancy Drew. Then there was the room of modern paperbacks, chiefly romance and general fiction. There was the room featuring writing references and books on the writing craft. There was the room of sewing, quilting, and craft books. And outside, stacked on long tables ranging across the patio and into the yard beneath big shade trees, were the rest of the books: boxes of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason stories, boxes of Agatha Christie, boxes of John D. MacDonald, and boxes and boxes and boxes of just about everything else.

I told myself no, no, no. I tried to be strong. I tried to resist. But then I found the Perry Mason books, at 25 cents each. I was outside. The scent of musty old books occasionally wafted through the fresh outdoor air before being blown away by the Oklahoma wind. I knew better. I did. And I bought them anyway.

What is it the English say? You might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb?

Okay, so hang me now.

I went for the volumes of Elizabeth Gaskell (she of Cranford fame). I went for Anthony Trollope. I found a book written about life on the prairie and one about teenage flying aces in WWI. I did my best to reject books bearing evidence of “tooth of worm” and those printed on such acid-corrupted cheap paper that the pages were an ugly dark brown. I kept saying to myself, “Put that back. Don’t get that one. You have enough. That’s too many.” And I came staggering out of that house with two huge shopping bags of wonderful reading–astonished at my dissipation in throwing all good sense to the winds.

How will I read them? Wearing a paint respirator mask, I suppose. (After I’m done with Felix Francis and Sid Halley.)


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