Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Wee Book Inn

On Friday, I made mention of my love for old books. I have mentioned it a few times here, actually and made vague promises in the past to highlight some of the books in my own collection. I thought today I might just keep my word.

I wouldn't say I have an extensive or impressive collection, but I do love the few treasures I've found over time, some of them with stories all their own on top of what's written within their pages.

I absolutely LOVE when I find personal inscriptions and notes written inside the front covers or pages of some of the books I have. For instance, in my 1939 copy of Peter Rabbit the inscription reads " To Christopher "tophie" love Nanny".  and the oldest book in my collection reads "Merry Christmas To Ralph  from Grandma  1918".

It's sobering to think that even the little boys who recieved those books as gifts from loving grannies are possibly gone from this life themeselves.  I absolutely loved, among other things, the underlying theme of loving old books in The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I finished it a few weeks ago now and would love to have it here to quote, but I've already passed it along to someone else to read. Poorly paraphrased the narrator of the book talks about how the dead live on through old books, we get to sit with the author perhaps long gone and listen again to their voice, their humor, their thoughts and wit. On top of all of that, there is a glimpse into another life when I find something so old that belonged to someone else at one time. I think about "tophie" and how it came to be that he no longer wanted his copy of Peter Rabbit, but I like to think that in pulling it out to read to my kids, snuggling up on the couch and using just a touch of put-on British accent I'm somehow honoring the bond of that Nanny and her little "tophie" one more time.

Books have a way of connecting us, so many memories of my childhood come from the relationship I had to my books. I spent countless hours reading as a child and read almost anything I could get my hands on. I read books of poetry, tales from other lands, and even the adult fiction I snuck out of my parent's bookshelves. There I learned what Ubola was, Shark attacks, Russian spies and um... sex.

My sister and I were looking through a collection of Anne of Green Gables books that I had, after she picked up her own set on Saturday morning. We were going through the illustrations on the paper back covers and remembering in exact detail the illustrations that graced the covers of the set we had in childhood and remembering perfectly the summers we spent filling out heads with the stories.

It's amazing actually how much I have retained from my journeys into books. Periods of my life have belonged to different books that I have loved and read that sometimes if I pull them down off the shelf for another read, I am transported back to that time and place and fall in love all over again with how that story made me feel then.

University was my first real foray into reading "real" books however. Books that belonged to the world of academia, high-minded poetry, classics and the canons of Shakespeare, Chaucer and Edgar Allan Poe. I read some absolutely dreadful books in those years of comparative literature and English classes, but I also fell in love with Margaret Laurence, Morely Callaghan, Lenoard Cohen, and E.E. Cummings.

Most of the books I read I had to buy and while most of them came from the overpriced university bookstore, I got smarter over time and found ways to buy them on consignment from a little books shop several blocks away.

I loved that bookshop then and haunted it often, I love it still and visited it just this last weekend.

There are so many things to love about the Wee Book Inn, the selection the prices, the quirky furniture and the ancient cat... but you would be right to assume that my favorite place to be is upstairs where the antiquities and vintage editions are kept.

I feel like a child in a candy store looking at the shelves of books so old that their covers are long faded and the language of the tales inside them so politically incorrect. It is like a whole other generation is sitting there spine to spine begging me to pick them up and peek inside at what their thoughts and imaginations all looked like back then.
The titles of these Tom Swift novels crack me up

And of course many of the books have inscriptions inside. 

Not only am I enticed by the old copies of The Bobsy Twins visit the circus but of whoever Susan was and why her teacher Ms. Manning gave it to her "for your summer, until we meet again".

How lovely is that? And how impossible to leave it there in the store.

But I did. I left almost everything on those dusty shelves or under glass and exhibited considerable restraint passing by some of the same editions of Robert Browning I probably sold back to that same store in order to pay my dorm room rent.

I came home and pulled some of my collection down, running my fingers over their worn leather and linen covers, smelling the mustiness of their thick yellow pages and hunting through the margins for the notes and underlinings some astute readers left behind for me, to show me what on that page stirred them enough to claim it with a ballpoint pen.

Just this morning I pulled down the oldest book in my collection. It belonged to my own Nanny and I'm not sure when she became it's owner but the original inscription is reads to someone named Darlene. The story is of a little girl living in London during World War I, but more importantly it is the story of her life inside her nursery with her family of 16 dolls.

Very gingerly Ava Grace turned the pages and I read aloud some of these bits:

Sunny Jim (her doll whom has enlisted and is now going off to fight in the War) must have a little trunk packed. Dora and Christabel (other dolls) can help me to pack. Heavy things at the bottom of the trunk, such as boots, and a few picture books, just to look at between the battles. We will put some chocolates inside the boots; they will be such a lovely surprise, and make Sunny feel cheerful and brave just before the battle. He will be able to fight many more Germans if he is cheered up by a few chocolates (especially caramels).

I think we can all agree they don't make them like they used to. 

But I sure like traveling back to the world they came from even for just a little visit to see if we can still be on the same page. I'm pretty sure I will always love my own little collection of time machines. 


  1. Ashley, have I told you about my oldest book? I dont collect old books, per se, but when I found this one on my granny's bookshelf as a young teenager I was enchanted. I remember my dad read through it with me.

    It's called Lonely Lily (or The Shepherd's Call), and its written by M.L.C .
    There's a light ink inscription on the first page that reads,
    "Presented to Miss Flossie Tompson by her Teacher Mrs John Paul.
    Oct 25th 1891".

    Pretty awesome, hey?!

  2. Loved this post. What a wonderful collection you have!!! I've only recently started collectiing old books, but I don't have such a lovely place as yours to visit!! It's so much fun going on the hunt!!



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