Sunday, 27 May 2012

Reading the Past

If you know Susannah and I personally you will know we love books, and they form a major part of our lives.  I am a habitual hoarder of books and can't bear to part with them, I am constantly picking them up wherever I go to the point we are running out of space to store them, and I am always interested in what other people read, so beware if I am ever your house guest one of the first things I do is to nose through your book collection wherever it is.

Left: a few books from our modern book collection.  Right: some of our books in our living room-cum-library

I personally own a lot of books which were printed over fifty years ago, some passed down through generations, others which have been tossed out to a charity shop and I have rescued for my own collection, and others I have no idea where they have appeared from but they are there and will probably never leave. 

Left: One of my copies of Jane Eyre, this edition is 1941 (my all time favourite book I have read FAR too many times). Right: a selection of some of our older books.

There is something about old books which makes me enjoy reading them so much more. Perhaps it's the fact that books stir up so much emotion and you feel that someone before you has held that book and felt the same emotions as you.  I usually choose to read a book because it relates to how I feel at the time, and I often wonder what the other readers have felt as they read the book, and what made them choose to read it - as if somehow their feelings are part of the character of the book now too. Or perhaps it is because you know that because you continue to read that book it still has a purpose in the world, it is still valued, and it makes you feel like somehow you are saving it. Or maybe it is as simple as old books have a distinctive smell (you quite often literally will find me - or indeed my husband - with my nose in a book having a sniff!) and the hard cover binding is so much more attractive than the throwaway paperbacks of more recent years.

Inside cover of The Earlier Monologues of Robert Browning- inscribed by a relative about 4 or 5 generations back.

A lot of my old books are completely battered, sometimes have the previous owners name in the fly leaf, the spine is tattered, corners of pages turned over to mark where they have reached, and although they would never be considered valuable because of the "damage", to me they are all the more beautiful because you know they have been loved, enjoyed and cherished.  Unfortunately though, I now have one or two books that I get a bit nervous handling as they are on the verge of being too well loved to be readable!

Left: inside cover of a book belonging to our mother inscribed by her former work colleagues. Right: one of my Christmas presents to Simon last year. 1955 copy of The Three Hostages.

Equally I love reading and own a huge collection of modern books, and I can't help wondering when I finish reading a book I have chosen, bought and loved- will my children read this one day? Will Isobel relate to the character in the same way I did? Will this book one day be on their shelves, or will it be doomed to end up in the trash or palmed off to a charity shop, and then rescued by another who may appreciate it like I did? As with everything in life, what is contemporary today will be considered old, quaint, and quite possibly "vintage", in thirty years time. Personally as long as there are always books I don't really care how old they are!



  1. beautifully written post

    should be a campaign to "keep printed books alive"

    1. Thanks Tony, books play a huge part in my life so felt I wanted to write a post on them.

      Definitely- I bought my husband a Kindle for his birthday but on the proviso he still bought the printed books as well as downloading them!

  2. One of my hobbies is collecting older versions of my favourite classics! I have amassed a lovely shelf of these prized books and love to look at them, feel their pages, (and read them, of course!) I SO relate to your enjoyment of old books!

    1. Jane Eyre has been a lifelong favourite of mine and I am always picking up copies here and there! I will always be happy with books in the world.


Thank you so much for your comments, it is very much appreciated. we read each and every one of them. x