Everyone loves new things – new car, new clothes, new phone, new anything. But there is also something special about old things. Things that have lasted, that have survived, that have knocks, or creases, or faded, or something to show they have been around for a while, that they have been loved. I have a growing love of old books. I love to look in the inside pages and find the publication date, and think what was happening in the world at the time. What kind of life did the books previous owners lead? What else did they read? Did they like the same books that I did?
Last weekend I went back to A Book Affair, an antiquarian bookstore I stumbled across a few months ago. The shop owner remembered me – when I bought another of E Nesbit’s beautiful cloth-bound books from 1944, The Pheonix and the Carpet (I bought another one from the series last time I visited, sad that I had to separate the set, and hoping that the others wouldn’t sell in the meantime – they hadn’t!), he remembered that I had bought The Story of the Treasure Seekers. ‘Come back to complete the set?’ he said. (As you can see in the photo above, I still have one more of the same edition to collect – Wet Magic. It’s the one with the electric blue cover). I also bought a copy of Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, a book whose title has intrigued me since I first heard it at ten or eleven years old.
My friend Angela and I wandered around the store for a long time, pulling out books and exclaiming, ‘This one is from 1922! From 1910! 1905!’ and leaving through the yellowing pages, stroking the leather covers.
Books are survivors. How many things can you buy from 1905, that is in practically the same condition as when it was printed (bar a tiny tear or a splodge on the title page)? How many things from 1910 have survived? Things fall apart, get thrown away, are destroyed, are dismantled to make something new – they lose their original purpose. Not books. They will sit patiently on a shelf, waiting until someone finds them again, be it in 10 years time or 100 years time. They may be fragile – they are made of paper, after all, but they are resilient as well. Maybe it’s because they are full of ideas. Ideas can be pretty resilient too.