Falling apart in my hands.

There’s a book I have that I bought for pennies at a giant second-hand book sale a few years ago. It’s one of my favorite books, but only for its antiquity. And I don’t mean it’s rare and pristine and I have it stored in a glass case somewhere. It just feeds into the nostalgia I have for bygone eras that I never even knew in the first place.

It’s a massive book written for women in 1904 all about the proper way to run a household. There are lessons on how to manage servants, detailing to duties of each, instructions on how much allowance one’s husband should give her per week depending on the size of the family and apartment. Ideas for decorating—should you want a green bedroom you really must follow Mrs. _____ (I can’t recall the author’s name) instructions. Pages and pages of menus and recipes are included, as well as proper ways to set tables and host guests. Home remedies for everything from measles to luxurious hair are worded in such strange and wonderful ways that I can’t help but read them aloud in appropriate accents.

The book itself is in okay condition—covers and pages are intact at least—and it has that wonderful really old book smell. Advertisements for other books and novelties are included in the foreword and I can’t help but wish for a little bit that I could travel back to the Victorian years to put all of my new knowledge to good use.

There’s just something about a really old book that draws me in. No matter the subject, I just want to hold it and leaf through the worn pages. There are others I have that I have no real desire to actually read, save for a few sentences here and there, and I realize that it’s probably a silly affection as they do nothing more than take up space, but I also have no intention of getting rid of them. More than aesthetic appeal, I relish in the idea that people, real people, a century or decades ago bought this book when it was brand new and thought nothing of it—it was just a product of their contemporary culture. I’ve already discussed my love of historical fiction, and this connection to the types of people who show up in the novels I read only helps to make them all the more real.

Am I crazy? Do you have any books that you love not for their story or function but for the sole fact that they happen to exist?

10 Responses to Falling apart in my hands.

  1. Steven Davis says:

    I have several “books as tactile artifacts” – my William Blake series of illustrated books, my Talmud (most of it), the R.C. Bell’s wonderful Boardgame Book (kind of a cheat as it has boards for games and pieces in it)… popup books, of course.

    Would any children’s book really be as satisfying on an eReader?

    The book doesn’t necessarily have to be old, it just needs to be held.

  2. Silver James says:

    I have one of those, though I have no desire to return to those days of yesteryear. Mine is a guide for The Officer’s Lady(tm). As in military officer, specifically the US Army. The book was given as a joke at a bridal shower as my intended was slated for recall once he finished law school. I remember reading it and giggling madly. This was the Eighties and I was a Modern Woman(tm). Every time I see that book on my library’s shelf, I smile, reminded of those crazy times as an officer’s wife, and learning that culture doesn’t necessarily change with the times.

    That said, I’d love to get my hands on your book! I’ve got a Victorian setting for a project and I need to research for realism. ;)

  3. LupLun says:

    If you’re nuts, you’re in good company. I used to work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the library there had a book conservation department where they were liked to talk about books themselves as objects of art. A few of my coworkers there were members of the prestigious Grolier Club on 60th street. I accompanied them there for an exhibit once, it was a nice place.

    Lupines and Lunatics

  4. Sarah Joy says:

    In graduate school, I took a course on Victorian literature, and we were required to write at least two different reports on books like the one that you mentioned. Also, much of the Victorian-era fiction is written in much the same way as their non-fiction.

    If you can get your hands on Coquette, it’s wonderful fiction book which will leave you feeling much the same way. :)

  5. Donn says:

    I once had a book of collected ghost tales published in the late nineteenth century. Terrific read – not for the stories, but for the anachronistic details that tried to up the horror factor. For example (and ha, you did something similar just above) whenever the story claimed to have recently happened, the name of the person involved was blanked out but the first letter retained – “Mrs. P_____, of A_____ in Scotland” or such.

    I can definitely see the appeal of owning an old book like that for not-its-content. For what it shows, not what it tells.

  6. LupLun says:

    Blargh, first comment got modded. Your scripts are no fun at all, you know that? -_-p

    If you’re nuts, you’re in good company. I used to work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the library there had a book conservation department where they were liked to talk about books themselves as objects of art. A few of my coworkers there were members of the prestigious Grolier Club on 60th street. I accompanied them there for an exhibit once, it was a nice place.


  7. Jenni Wiltz says:

    I do have one book like that! It’s called “Immortal Poems,” and it’s a dingy old paperback anthology of poems I picked up at a library book sale for a quarter. I bought it twenty years ago, and it was probably published another twenty or thirty before that. The pages are falling out, the cover disintegrates more every time I touch it, and somebody wrote some ridiculous comments in pen about several of the poems.

    But because of that book, I discovered Sir Philip Sidney. I memorized my first Shakespeare sonnet. I’d already read lots of the stuff my first college poetry survey course covered. Because it had already been defaced, I practiced scanning lines in pencil.

    The book used to sit on my nightstand, but now it’s tucked away in a bookcase. I know exactly where it is, though, and can get it out at a moment’s notice. I’d never give it up, even though my college Norton anthologies are more complete and in better shape. That book was my introduction to poetry.

  8. Rowenna says:

    I love my old books–when I like a poet, I hunt for an antique copy of their collected poems for my shelf. My Tennyson has several sheets of paper with algebra equations on them. Finding ephemera like that makes my day–the thrill that someone else used and loved this book, perhaps marked her page with her algebra homework and forgot about it. As for cookbooks–I only buy old ones with dingy covers and who-knows-what staining the pages. Of course, half the recipes call for lard, but that’s part of the charm!

  9. DBurks says:

    I was an odd child who got sent to the library often when I was in school. Rowdy children got sent to the principal; children who persisted in asking inconvenient questions were sent to the library. In the sixth grade I went to a school that was built in 1898, and the newest book in its library was dated 1940. There was no librarian so I was free to make inappropriate choices. I have no idea why an elementary school had a complete set of Rudyard Kipling, but I stole all four volumes. To a small sickly boy in an obscure Arkansas town India was the most foreign and exotic of locations. Even better, the books included Kipling’s article ‘Something of Myself’. I read it at least once a week, and I felt the turmoil of his childhood as much as my own. My favorite stories are still those that create a distinct time and place. I am really quite hopeless; the stories I create pay as much attention to the setting as to the characters, plot and dialogue. Maybe Kipling will come back into fashion again.

  10. Yes. I have a book from the 50s that tells teen girls how to be popular. It is on display in my entryway, with a few other old books I love. I bought it at a thrift store. It made me giggle.

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