Thoughts Brought On by Reading Old Books

First, a shout out to Erik Kwakkel for opening my mind to the possibilities of marginalia.

Working through my summer reading list, I’ve encountered a few old books, namely

Old Books Summer Reading 2015

From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne, printed 1966

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré, printed 1975

A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie, printed 1953

                   Thoughts on Old Books
                          by Jay E. 

Books are like wines and cheeses: 
  they’re better aged.
    Like certain furniture styles, 
      not just aged, but distressed.

Well-worn covers, falling apart at the seams, 
  held together by hope and scraps 
    of binding tape or hardened bits 
      of glue.

Not-quite-blank first pages, left empty by the publisher,
  filled in by a succession of owners, 
    give glimpses - small hints and clues – 
      to the history of those pages.

With luck, exquisite ex libris plates 
  bearing the name of one long passed 
    whose legacy yet lives on; what better legacy 
      than the power of the written word?

Title pages with weight and meaning, 
  some fantastic works of art, 
    others equally fantastic for their simplicity – 
      the end result of dedicated typographers 
        and skilled typesetters.

The quirks of printing: 
  typefaces not seen in decades,
    pages printed at a slant,
      chapter headings and divisions 
        once the norm now oddities.

Above all, the smell: 
  that heady mix of dust and must 
    and decaying paper and 
      ageing ink. 
  It almost hurts to breathe it in, 
    yet like an addict we return 
      again and again, 
        imbibing in our drug of choice.

Consider these pages from my copy of A Pocket Full of Rye:

Pocket Full of Rye First Page

Pocket Full of Rye Page 54 Robert Willis
At one point, the book belonged to New Bern High.

I theorize this was its first home.

How long did it stay there?

Was it bought or stolen or did someone simply forget to return it?

How long did each owner keep it?

How many owners did it have?

Who, exactly, is . . .



Sheila, and

is that her phone number, or someone else’s?

Did she own the book and give the number in case it was lost?

Did she write her number for an admirer on the only paper available?

Robert Willis, and

how does he fit in to all this?

To me, his name seems like a young lady’s doodling.

Especially since his name appears on multiple pages.


Sometimes the best questions are those to which there are no answers.



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