My Love Affair with Old Books

I am in love with old books. I love the way they look. I love the way they feel. I love their charm and their history and their character. But mostly, I love the way they smell. If there was a Yankee Candle scent in “old books from the attic” I would most certainly buy that.

Really, that’s where my love affair started-- in the attic of my grandmother’s house. My great-grandfather was also a lover of books. He had scores of them. Business, poetry, literature, philosophy. You name it, he had it. My grandmother was a teacher, and over the years, she enhanced his collection. They were all kept tucked away in the musty attic of their turn-of-the-century home. As a kid I would spend hours up there, just poking around and reading. When she died, I inherited what would be the first of many books in my collection.

What fascinates me most about books, particularly the old ones among us, is the history of them. Like the e-books of today, they hold inside the stories of great authors. But unlike e-books, the book itself also holds a story. Sometimes there are beautifully handwritten gift inscriptions inside. Sometimes there are other notes and mementos of a person’s life. Sometimes there are owner bookplates. These are marks left from people. Real people, who lived 200 years ago in some cases, and who held the same book in their hands that I am holding. To me, this human connection is just as valuable as the words inside.

I think about what will happen when all the books are gone and we’ve gone to 100% digital. Will my grandkids cherish my Kindle the way I cherish my grandfather’s Bible that he carried with him during WWII? Will they appreciate the places I’ve highlighted with e-ink the way I appreciate the passages he underlined and likely recited to himself while sitting in a foxhole? Will they treasure the Kindle bookmarks the way I treasure the little pieces of grass and reeds he wove into crosses to mark his place?

I buy old books at garage sales, library sales, estate sales, used bookstores, and anywhere else I can find them. I don’t buy them all, only the ones that jump out at me... the ones that have a story embedded in their paper and their bindings, and the marks of all those who have held them before me. The ones that are discarded and unwanted, yet beautiful and valuable.

My dream someday, when I’m old and grey, is to own a store of old and used books. I hope to preserve not only the stories that people told, but the history of the physical books themselves, and our connection to the past. In the meantime, I might start listing some of them on Abebooks or Alibris, since part of the fun is passing the history along. I’m also thinking of starting I’ve also started a separate blog where I talk about some of the more interesting books I’ve come across and the stories inside.

If you’re a lover of books like me, I hope you’ll join me in preserving them.