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?