You’re here to read another one of my “5 reasons…” posts? Excellent, come on in! Make yourself at home. Tea? Coffee?
Comfy? Good. Now, let me tell you a little story. Today, after spending thirty of my well-earned pounds just to have a dentist look at my teeth for two minutes, I decided to have a good ol’ nosy around a nearby charity shop. To the left of the door, I noticed a huge plastic box stacked to the rim with old books. Like, really old books. The kind of books that have missing or peeling spines, yellowed, well-thumbed pages and faded, sun-bleached covers.
I picked through the books carefully, seeing if there was anything that took my fancy and within a couple of minutes, my inner poet squealed with delight. I’d found a 1930 edition of An Anthology of Modern Verse and I couldn’t resist the sheer quaintness it exuded; the lack of dust jacket, the antiquated font stamped across its cover…
As I carried this charming little book home, I began to ponder this:
Why exactly are old books so god damn awesome?
Well, you see…
- They’re a link to the past. I don’t know how well you can see the above picture, but there’s an inscription on the very first page: To Paul, From Bill 26/10/35. Who was Paul? Who was Bill? How did they know each other? Why did Bill gift Paul with this book? Are they still alive? Where did they live? This simple inscription poses so many questions, questions that my imagination is having a field day thinking of answers to. Not only that, though, it serves as a reminder of the fact that Paul was probably the first of many owners judging by how long ago he was presented with this book and the poor condition in which it is in now. It’s exciting thinking of how many hands this book has passed through and its incredible to think that I’m holding actual history, albeit small and insignificant perhaps, in my hands in 2017, 82 years later. I also have a book of psalms that belonged to my great, great aunt that dates back to the early 1900s. Even though she’s been dead for decades, I feel that this tiny book connects us in a way
- They offer a fascinating insight into the past. Perhaps not so much with the book I purchased today, but other old books can give offer us a glimpse into an era long since passed. I used to have an encyclopedia from the 1920s and there were so many ‘facts’ that had been proven incorrect following extended research in later years, like the size of our solar system for example. My lasting memory of this book (that mysteriously vanished) was that it made no mention of Pluto in its sections on space because Pluto hadn’t yet been discovered! I also have a Victorian magazine that I insisted on buying when I was about ten and even now, nearly fifteen years later, I still find it interesting poring over the old advertisements and illustrations. It’s fascinating to see how much attitudes have changed since then and it’s something we might not necessarily be able to do without old books, simply because most (if not all) of the people living in these past eras have since died.
- They might be old, but they’ve stood the test of time and for a very important reason too. Books nowadays are produced on a mass scale. As much as it pains me to say this, they’ve become somewhat disposable. If we buy a book and we don’t enjoy it, we have no qualms about throwing it in the recycling bin or giving it to a charity shop. In the past, though – not even fifty years ago according to my grandfather when asked – books were a lot rarer. They were a lot more, to quote my grandfather, “precious”. Books weren’t as readily available as they are nowadays. There weren’t cheap, second hand copies available on Amazon or e-readers capable of downloading every book under the sun. Not only that, though, books were more expensive and given the choice, people naturally deemed it wiser to spend their wages on food and clothes. As a result, when a person did receive or buy a book, they cherished it and combined with the comparatively superior quality of books of old, they’re still here today. Sure, they’re usually battered and falling to bits by the time we retrieve them out of a clearance bin in a charity shop, but they’re still here and that’s what’s important.
- They smell wonderful. That musty smell that evokes images of towering, oak shelves lined with countless books in wood paneled, candle-lit studies? Yes. Perhaps I’m strange but I snort the dust off old books like other people snort cocaine (well, I don’t literally, but I do sniff them). It’s the sweet smell of history. Am I inhaling the dust of a hundred years passed? Am I just giving myself emphysema? Who knows? Who cares? (I care a little bit actually, I don’t want emphysema)
- They’re usually pretty cheap. People just don’t seem to give a shit about history these days and as a result, old books are usually deemed unnecessary clutter and in a bid to vacate some shelf space, they’re sometimes sold at shockingly low prices. It’s good in a way for old book collectors such as myself, but it does conjure an incredible sense of sadness within me. Books that have so much sentimental value – evident from their worn exteriors and annotated interiors – reduced to lowly priced pieces of ‘junk’, tossed aside like they’re nothing worth a second glance.
Do you like old books? If so, why? Let me know in the comments below!