In Praise of Old Books

Old Books

There are some who hate old books and rip their pages and toss them about and leave them in shadowy corners to the mercy of the moths; and there are those who take good care of old books and read them and pass them on. In other words, there are evil people and good people in this world. This post is for the good guys.

A few days ago I received a bundle of old books from a bashful ballerina who for the time being is pirouetting in the UK. Five old things. Four printed more than 50 years ago. One over 100 years old. Poems by Kingsley and Shelley and Sir Walter Raleigh, and Pushkin’s prose tales, and The Knapsack too. Books that stood the test of time. The kind of books that I like most.

Old books, like old lovers, must be approached with care and treated with delicacy.

When I touch a book that’s older than me I cannot but feel a mingled sense of awe and curiosity. I think of the shelves where in decades past it took shelter, and of the fingers who over the years have flipped through its mothy pages, and of the curious eyes who perused its stately ink.

And I realize that, although the cover might be battered, and the ink somewhat faded, and some pages scribbled spotted saddened by some naughty boy fond of marmalade and mischief, I say despite all these misfortunes, I know I hold in my hand something precious.

Precious because what I really hold is proof that plants, animals, and people decay but that the written word endures.

And did I tell you that the smell of mothy old paper and ink is my favorite smell?

And did I tell you that the solemn yellow of old book pages as the lamplight falls on them is my favorite color?

And did I tell you that I love the people who love old books?

 ***

I love old books. Don’t you?

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42 thoughts on “In Praise of Old Books

  1. I wrote about a magazine I picked up at a farm estate sale. It was a Home Journal from turn of two centuries ago. It was so enlightening in how writers were revered. I loved the illustrations too.
    My grandfather gave me an old book of Pixies and signed it for my birthday when I was a little girl. I pulled it out and read some of it again last week!

  2. I love old books. I love to hold them, feel their covers, smell them. One of my favorite things to do is walk into a used book store and just breathe.

  3. So glad you mentioned the smell. Oh, the smell of an old book! I used to relish in carefully opening an old relic in some forgotten aisle of the library; hearing it’s spine moan and then taking that first inhale. It just smells of history and it always made me marvel to know that decades prior another person was doing just as I was though our lives were unrelated in all other ways.

  4. You would have loved my wife’s father. He had thousands of them. I use to love going into old book stores and browse. But now the asthma kicks in and I just stare in the window.

  5. Did I tell you that the smell of moth-eaten, old paper and ink is my favorite smell?
    Did I tell you that the solemn yellow of old book pages as the lamplight falls on them is my favorite color?
    And did I tell you that I love the people who love old books?

  6. to be honest I love old books more than the new ones… the old ones have some secret in himselve, smell by history, my bookshelves are full of such books … really love them

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