A Writerly Link to the Past

Every writer I know adores books. We may not agree on the genre but we all read voraciously and can’t go past a bookstore without stopping for more volumes to add to our already sagging shelves.

While visiting Carol Benedict’s blog I noticed her comment about treasuring a grandmother’s old bible and I replied that I, too, have an old bible that was my great-grandmother’s. “I daren’t use it,” I said, “as it’s falling apart, but I love thinking about the faith that links us through the centuries.”

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Having said that, I decided to go looking for the bible. Our heated basement has an outrageous number of boxes stacked on shelves, most without any labels, and the one I wanted wasn’t easily located. Instead I ended up with a collection of old books I’ve gathered mostly from used bookstores and garage sales. It’s a disparate assortment – the poetry of Milton, Burns, Tennyson, Coleridge, and Service, hymnbooks, schoolbooks, an 1884 bible dictionary, a 1900 book on GOOD MANNERS AND SUCCESS, some Shakespeare, and even a dilapidated copy of BLACK BEAUTY. There are about three dozen books and none are in collector’s condition. They are just personal treasures.

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The two oldest are an 1833 edition of James Rennie’s ALPHABET OF SCIENTIFIC CHEMISTRY FOR THE USE OF BEGINNERS and an 1834 edition of R. H. Barham’s THE INGOLDSBY LEGENDS. My favourite, however, is Mrs. E. M. Bruce’s A THOUSAND A YEAR, published in 1866. The dedication page says, “To the noble band of Christian ministers by whose self-sacrificing toil American civilization is so rapidly advancing, and to their patient wives who toil unceasingly with burdens that are never lifted, this book is dedicated by one who sees, and would alleviate the trials of their disheartening life.”

That’s the absolute truth! That’s what it says. It’s a gem!

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I have much newer books that I call favourites, too, but there’s something special about these tattered volumes with their yellowed and crumbling pages that speaks to me of a previous generation of readers and writers. Each fragile page is a link with the past. As Carol Benedict suggested, heirlooms are tangible reminders of our heritage, of those who have gone before us. As a writer I take comfort in this written connection and find security in the implied continuity.

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What “old things” do you cherish? (We’re not talking about spouses here!) Why are they meaningful to you?

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9 thoughts on “A Writerly Link to the Past

  1. That’s pretty cool!

    I have a Shakespeare collection that looks older than it is. And I was given a really old book (can’t remember… maybe a century) in German. So I’m not exactly sure what it is. :0)

    • A collection of Shakespeare is pretty awesome regardless of its age!

      At least you know the other is in German. Maybe you could scan the frontspiece to post and hope someone would interpret and identify it for you?

  2. christicorbett says:

    What a great collection!

    I cherish things that were passed down from family members. They aren’t of value (my father’s bookshelf he had as a kid is one such thing) but they mean so much.

    Christi
    http://christicorbett.wordpress.com

  3. joylene says:

    I agree, Carol. It’s something about the smell. I have a collection of 10 books (Christmas Carol) from the 1890s that were used at a Catholic school one of my relatives attended. I treasure that collection. I also have my great-great grandmother’s bible, and it too is falling apart. Thanks for blogging about this. I’m off to find her bible.

    • Two of the books pictured were textbooks acquired from an uncle. The ‘Highroads to Reading’ books were published in the late-1930’s and I think they were still more interesting reading for a student than the ‘Dick and Jane’ stories that I taught to students in the 1960’s.

  4. JaxPop says:

    I have a nice collection of very old books – many of them classics – as well as my great great grandmother’s Bible (kept in a wooden box in my “library”) but my favorite is an old math book. It was tucked away in one my grandfather’s tool chests & I found it after he died. His handwritten notes & “answers” were scribbled on the pages. He never went to school beyond 4th grade so I assume he was using the book to learn on his own. He was self-taught in everything else. (I blogged about him a long time ago – he was a clever storyteller. Maybe I’ll post a re-run.)

    • Post that re-run! He sounds like a fascinating person, and how wonderful to have his handwritten notes.

      • Dave Ebright says:

        My “Pop” makes an appearance in BAD LATITUDE – Chapter 4 about the diary. A big part of that portion of story is TRUE. (He literally made himself something from nothing – HIS father was the purest definition of an evil sadistic beast that one could imagine. He was gentle & kind.)

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