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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