To all my book lovers out there, have you ever wondered the history behind that book that you're holding? For new books, that's a simple answer. But old books on the other hand, that's a different story. I've always wondered about the past lives' my books have lived—to whom did they belong to? What have the previous owners left behind? It's a question that's always in the back in my mind—especially when I'm at Strand, Book-Off, or any other second-hand book store.
I no longer buy books to solely read them, but to collect them. Even if I already own the novel, I like having multiple editions with different art work, introductions and edits. Owning and interacting with an old book is a form of exploration. You're not only drawn in by its prose and narrative, but in your hands you're holding a piece of the past, literally.
Over the years I've collected books ranging from 1900 to present day and have found interesting things in-between their pages. In an old copy of Lady Chatterly's Lover, I found an Amtrak ticket from the 90s. It was a one-way ticket for an evening train from D.C. to New York. The ticket was left in-between the book, and I'm assuming the owner used it as her bookmark, eventually forgot about the book, and then sold it off.
This copy was such a gem to find because all I had hoped for that day was to buy a vintage bag from the Army Navy store. After no luck with bags, pins, or anything remotely close to my size (petite woman problems), I found a dusty shelf with stacks of manuals. Amidst them I found this copy and knew I had to have it. It's apart of a ten volume collection, and I have yet to find/buy the others. One day I'm hoping to purchase the rest to complete the collection.
The book is small enough to fit in your palms and has that old book smell so many people love. While I didn't find anything such as tickets or notes, the previous owner underlined a lot, such as words and excepts of poetry. The previous owner also dog-eared many of the pages, something that I'm very much guilty of.
This book is the oldest one that I own, being published in 1900. It's a collection children's stories and fairytales and what I found inside I thought to be quite fitting.
I found an old set of instructions from the 1940s in the middle of he book. Heavily creased and yellowed, it still retains every single word and letter. It was most likely included in the box as the page shows no signs of tearing.
It's summer, 2015. After gorging ourselves on crispy seafood by the pier, we explored the area of City Island. It's a place that you imagine what a small town would be like. At City Island, the houses lined the streets with endless gardens of flowers, everyone knows everyone and there is one small ice cream stall. In the middle of the summer heat it was quiet for 5 p.m.—a time when small towns cease to make noise. One of the antique stores was still open and inside we went.
A cornucopia of history, the store was a collection of old toys to estate jewelry. We say hello to the owner, an older gentleman with the probable age of 65-70. My senses are overwhelmed by the smell of history, by the sight of everything piled together. I stride towards the jewelry and pick up a vintage pearl necklace. Nine dollars.
I asked the owner if he sells any old books. He is excited by my question. "I do!" he pulls out stacks of old magazines and recipe books from behind the counter. He then guides me towards the front of the store. There are shelves upon shelves of books both old and new. I spot Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, and "How to Start a Business."
"You like to read?" I nod.
"I've collected many books over the years. This one is my favorite. Do you like history? It's about this explorer and his wife—"
He hands me the copy of "The Greek Treasure" by Irving Stone. I then tell him I have an interest in Ancient cultures and mention Ancient Egypt.
"If you're going to buy one book in this store—buy this one. It used to be mine and it has maps of his explorations. It takes you on an adventure!"
I buy: "The Greek Treasure," Nora Roberts' "Midnight Bayou," "Fanciful Tales," and an old pearl necklace.
"It's nice to see young people read. Thank you for stopping by, please come again! And when you come again, tell me how you liked that book. It's very good!"
We shake his hand and he hands us his card. He continues to wave as we walk out the door, back into the sweltering heat.
In this copy of The Great Gatsby, I found love dedications with the owner comparing his beloved to Daisy as seen in the first photo. How I came across this copy of Gatsby is a story in itself. I didn't buy it at Strand or find it searching ebay.
Back in high school, a classmate of mine received it from her mom and wanted to either donate it or throw it away—a plan of hers as soon as the year was over. She hated the novel and found it boring. Fast forward to after our exam, when I asked her if I could have the book since she despised it that much.
"This?" she said, flipping through the pages. "It's not even that good."
"If you don't want it, could I have it? I like the book." Excited, I ended up going off on a tangent about how rare the copy was. That was my mistake.
"Nah. I'm going to sell it. It must be valuable if you want it that much."
"I'll pay you—"
"I think I'll sell it."
Months later, it was the end of the school year and I was cleaning out my locker when it happened.
"Hey. No charge. I wasn't going to sell it anyway." She tossed the book at me and walked away. I was first hit with confusion then excitement.
Maybe she got tired of holding onto something that just added weight, or maybe it was sheer luck. Either way, it was when I realized I've always and will always have a love affair with the past.
It was one of those "aha" moments in life when you discover something about yourself. In my case, that I'm a bibliophile who would rather get her hands on the oldest copy possible instead of a new one.
Do you guys collect old books and have you found anything in-between the pages?