I have a small assortment of pre-loved books, some quite literary, some not, many tattered, torn and dog eared. Ordinary objects to some for discarding, recycling, upcycling or burning.
But there’s something compelling about raggedy old books. They are like works of art, a sort of living, breathing art. No two are the same. There’s usually more to an old book than just looking at it and reading it. The real allure for me is the sensory pleasure a book exudes.
Some have stains and smudging on pages. There are coffee, wine and tea spills on pages smudged and wiped. Sometime I find crumbs in between the pages. There are ink marks, pen and pencil marks, underlining, scribblings, notes, asterisks and asides in the margins or between paragraphs. Often there are worn, folded and dog-eared pages at a spot in the book once saved by the reader. Some pages are ripped, even missing.
Often there is a previous owner’s name inscribed inside the cover or on the second page. A signtaure written in cursive using pen and ink. More on that below. Somebody, before me, read this book. Interacted with it.
I wonder as I look, touch and hold the book, turn the pages and absorb its faint scent, the scent often found in well worn old books.
The computer version, or a kindle, doesn’t give me this sensory experience. I am one for holding and touching the book I’m reading. It’s portable. I can pick it up whenever I want, re-read it, share it, even chuck it!
Vintage books in drab, dark yellowing colours. Marbling on the pages.
It’s not always about reading the book. Not always about the content.
It’s about enjoying the book itself, it’s physical beauty.
A tactile thing.
Sometimes it’s the unusual binding, the look of the book, the cover, the finish. I wonder about the skill that went into the book like a work of art, lovingly created.
It can be emotional.
“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries” said Rene Descartes
Alluded to above, these tattered beauties have evidence of prior ownership, prior love inscribed inside the front cover or in the first few pages. The book is an autographed copy for me, signed by the previous owner usually in cursive with a nibbed pen using black or indigo ink.
It can be a name, words, a note, a date, a location, an ode, an epitaph, a memory, a poem, words old and faded written inside yellowing front covers.
Sometimes a prior name is crossed out to make way for a new owner.
The book above by Capt Cobby concerns incidents with which he was associated in the War 1914-1918. Looks like the book was read, re-read, stuck together, repaired.
‘This is a pretty goodbook. Started to read itand found that Tab?? is mentioned init quite often. Hang ontoit for me.Soven? xxxx’
Again a nice, evenly slanted script.
‘To RuthFrom Helen’
Remember when? Remember when we had to learn to write in cursive with pen and ink? Ink wells? Remember those blotters? Oh yes those blotters. My first lessons in writing cursive were at school, at Sevenhill, under the watchful eye of our local St. Joseph nuns.
“Yes Sister, no Sister, thank you Sister. Bless me, bless you Sister”.
Pages and pages of lined blank writing books for practicing our cursive letters. Over and over we had to write lines and lines filling the pages of our writing books with all that ink.
Gotta love the way the owner of this book, Miss J. E. Jobson, using pencil, ends her address with:
‘Southern Hemisphereof The World’
‘Miss J. Jobsonc/o John MartinsCoRundle StreetAdelaide’
The name, the signature – in cursive – at top.
‘To RonnieFrom Auntie May& Uncle CharlieXmas 1921′
Handwriting in cursive. A bit of back hand, more curly or curveaceous. Perhaps, like me, a leftie.
Was this book a gift to:
‘Mr. J.F. RogersChristmas 1919B.M.F.’
Wishing you many happy returns
of the day 20/12/1927′
‘Underneath the Gas Lightshelter stands a little fragilegirlThere are many sad andweary in this pleasant worldof ours’
Bob Xmas 1929
A gift for a Confirmation on 6 November 1949.
‘PresentedtoLeslie Maderon the day of herConfirmation6-11-49fromThe United Ev. Luth Churchin Australiaper G. L……… ?Pastor’
Signatures, autographs, notes, remembrances, poems, odes and ditties in the front pages are, almost always handwritten in cursive.
Signature dated 1894.
If only libraries today worked on the honour system like they once did as stated in the inscription above:
‘Rules for the
The library to be opened
on Fridays from 4 to 5′
Members to pay 1st of month
All books to be brought back
at the end of a fortnight
either to be changed or renewed
Members will be responsible
for any injury done to the
books & in such case will
have to replace them’
An unsteady hand perhaps, a curly style of script for ‘Karil Garrett
Remnants of a repair with now very yellowed sticky tape (durex or Scotch tape).