For the Love of Antiquarian Books & Things Touched

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“Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book.” ~Author Unknown

I love old things. Very old things. Used. Worn things. Especially books. Old books are beautiful. Not just the content but the physical oldness (lol) of them. The fading covers, the crisp yellowing pages, the broken spines with loose pages….everything….

“A good book on your shelf is a friend that turns its back on you and remains a friend.” ~Author Unknown

I prefer old books over new books. In college I used to intentionally buy used books. And unlike most students the main reason wasn’t the reduced prices. It was because I loved that someone had it before me. I loved the highlights and little side notes in the margins. Sometimes I found them helpful but mostly I just loved seeing what people wrote and highlighted, knowing someone previously walked the journey before me. In high school I loved seeing the years and names listed on the back covers, especially when the years listed aren’t even of the same decade I had the book.

“You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.” ~Paul Sweeney

I remember sitting in class laughing with other students as we looked at our textbooks at the list of names next to years long gone, and talked about how students used those very same books in years that we weren’t even yet thought of.

The more tattered, marked up, the better.

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“A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.” ~Franz Kafka

“Lord! when you sell a man a book you don’t sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.” ~Christopher Morley

Old books.

One of the things I love most about them is the fact that through the years and decades they have been touched. Touched by various people, various lives, various breaths, the pages flipped by the fingers of people I’ll never meet. Words, concepts, sentences, comprehended by brains I’ll never know, books held in the arms of people who lived through years long gone. A world gone away. I wonder at the fact that the very books I hold in my hands were once part of someone else’s life. Someone who lived over ninety years ago.

I imagine my touch embracing the touch of people who felt the pages I feel now. My fingerprints lacing with old fingerprints that may still be on the surfaces, forever etched upon the yellowing pages before me.

I imagine the wonder that may have surged through curious brains long ago while devouring the words, tears that may have caressed the pages at night, thoughts that pondered the content, emotions that swirled like magic, giggles that echoed through the air, sadness, happiness, joy, and fascination that breathed while people read, felt, and cherished the books that are still around today.

I always loved the idea of old things. Old, beautiful things, used things that previously blessed the lives of various people, before making it into someone else’s hands.

“The smallest bookstore still contains more ideas of worth than have been presented in the entire history of television.” ~Andrew Ross

And I don’t just love literal old things but even modern or new things made to look or seem old, things with an old feel to them. A nostalgic, reminiscent tinge. I love modern books which take place way long ago. Just lovely.

“Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.” ~Jessamyn West

I recently realized I have a few very old books. There’s this used bookstore in Center City, Philadelphia called “Book Traders” and I love it! Especially the personal development, philosophy, and Psychology sections.

Sometimes I just grab a whole armfull of books that seem appealing to me. I found that I have a few very old ones, a couple 1940 ones and one 1913, and one 1920 one. And probably more laying around somewhere. I have so many books and online books on the Kindle, links, and pdfs that I don’t get around to reading them all yet and some I forget about until coming across them later.

I bought none of these books because of the age but because I find the subjects genuinely interesting but I’m sure if I saw a super old, inexpensive book somewhere with a topic I care nothing about, I would purchase it “just because.” lol

I found one last night in my dresser I never knew I have til now! I found myself giggling because it’s an American History book that was published in 1912 and updated in 1913. It’s faded, yellowed, crisp, and falling apart somewhat but still in great condition for a book of that age. Most of the pages are not falling out. It’s funny because so so so much has happened involving the U.S. Since then and it’s interesting to see it so incomplete. It’s funny to think how important that book was back then but how useless in an educational context, it is now. It’s so underdeveloped. It’s difficult to explain in words. It just seems so simple next to now. Our President Taft was president back then. And our President Wilson.

I know in 100 years though, when someone picks up one of our history books now, it will be so incomplete. So useless, educationally. And there will be new history books packed with so much more than we can imagine right now. Maybe in years to come, in the way distant future, someone somewhere will hold one of my books in her hands and giggle, her fingerprints joining mine on crisp, yellowing pages.

Anyway I been thinking about it a lot today and it reminded me of another book I read. A book I planned to write about here but never have yet. A breathtakingly beautiful but devastatingly heartbreaking novel. Published in the 70’s, It takes place in Ohio during the years just after the “Great Depression.” It’s called “The Bluest Eye” and is written by author, Toni Morrison. It’s about a little girl, Pecola, and how she struggles with self-esteem/self-worth issues because of the way society treats African American people. She’s an African American girl, around eleven years old, who desperately desires blue eyes. African American girls were often made to feel less beautiful than white girls and it was ingrained into them that blue eyes and light skin are worth more than dark eyes and dark skin. I know some of that sentiment still lingers today and it’s very real and detrimental to those who are affected by it.

Then this little girl suffers a serious tragedy.

It’s heartbreaking that throughout her whole life she suffered unjust racial discrimination and also her peers, even ones of her own ethnicity, excluded her. In the book, she’s considered to be less than beautiful, not just because of her skin/eye color but all of her features. And her family isn’t very well liked by the community people.

All she wants is love and acceptance and a feeling of being worthy. And no one gives her this or helps her see her true beauty. She is convinced that a pair of blue eyes will give her meaning and beauty.

And she’s convinced that it’s possible for her brown eyes to turn blue.

Her family struggles financially and also with domestic violence.

There’s a scene in a candy store where this sweet little girl wants candy and she’s afraid to ask. She knows the man won’t care for her. He’s rude and abrupt and impatient and treats her as if she’s nothing. It’s heartwrenching.

It’s amazing how the absolutely brilliant author, Toni Morrison, portrays the characters, so real and has the ability to convey the depth of the emotions and feelings experienced by them.

Throughout the book, I felt that I was able to identify so strongly with the characters in some ways. I wasn’t alive in the 1940’s, I’m not a child, have never experienced discrimination based on my race, and although I have experienced financial difficulties, occasionally, it’s not to the degree that this little girl’s family experiences it in the book. They are practically living on the streets sometimes. I can’t possibly know what most of those things are like. But the author is able to reach through all that and poignantly convey the very basic humanness of the little girl, Pecola, and the other characters. She conveys the longings and the needs, the heartache and suffering. The kind that is felt to some degree, at some point, by most living humans.

So many things struck me while reading. Like how sometimes our comfort zones are more comforting to us than the unusual even when our comfort zones are painful, chaotic, destructive, horrifying, and miserable. Even when the unusual is more sane and calm than our traumatic but familiar routines. Sometimes we can’t handle being out of our comfort zones or usual routines and become restless for what we have always known. Sometimes when all is quiet and calm and serene, we may find ourselves not only yearning to go back to what we know but actually intentionally bringing on trauma and drama and horror just because it’s what we’re used to, and actually finding some kind of twisted comfort in it even though we don’t want it and it’s not good for us. The chaos, the pain, the trauma and drama somehow fills a sense of emptiness in us that the lack of it all creates.

There’s so much in this novel I believe most of us can identify with in some ways no matter what decade we grew up in, no matter our skin color or culture, class status, financial situations, age, or any situations….

It’s beautifully and poetically written. It inspires me. The lady who wrote it is mind-blowingly understanding, empathetic, and amazing at writing it. When I say empathetic and understanding I’m not merely talking about compassion and caring. That too but I’m referring to an even deeper ability to get into the heads of certain kinds of people, create characters in ways that are so very realistic.

She gets in the heads of perverts, sexual predators, bullies, prostitutes…and portrays the human side. She writes of the awkward, painful, uncomfortable aspects of life and brings to life the characters who are responsible for the devastation and the people they impact.

She depicts their monstrous sides but also their human sides. She tugs at our heartstrings, seemingly tempting us to feel for these characters, to see their humanness, their basic, essential, marred innocence, daring us to identify with them in some ways. But never justifying their atrocities.

Her writing is beautiful. In an astounding way.

There’s a character in the novel who is a pervert. He’s mentioned earlier in the book but readers don’t know yet at that point that he’s really a pervert so I won’t mention this character’s name to avoid spoilers. I’m going to quote some things about him out of this book after readers find that he’s one. So in case you haven’t read the book and are reading this, planning to read it, I will not write his name.

The quotes here won’t give too much away but if you don’t want to know then I would recommend you stop reading here. I’m not giving the ending away or any big shockers or anything.

I find the description of the pervert to be very beautiful even though it’s dark and awkward and uncomfortable, and to some people, quite disturbing.

Lines taken out of “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison:

“Once there was an old man who loved things, for the slightest contact with people produced in him a faint but persistent nausea. He could not remember when this distaste began, nor could he remember ever being free of it. As a young boy he had been greatly disturbed by this revulsion which others did not seem to share, but having got a fine education, he learned among other things, the word ‘misanthrope.’ Knowing his label provided him with both comfort and courage, he believed that to name an evil was to neutralize if not annihilate it. Then, too, he had read several books and made the acquaintance of several great misanthropes of the ages, whose spiritual company soothed him and provided him with yardsticks for measuring his whims, his yearnings, and his antipathies. Moreover, he found misanthropy an excellent means of developing character: when he subdued his revulsion and occasionally touched, helped, counseled, or befriended somebody, he was able to think of his behavior as generous and his intentions as noble. When he was enraged by some human effort or flaw, he was able to regard himself as discriminating, fastidious, and full of nice scruples.”

&

“All his life he had a fondness for things – not the acquisition of wealth or beautiful objects, but a genuine love of worn objects: a coffee pot that had been his mother’s, a welcome mat from the door of a rooming house he once lived in, a quilt from a Salvation Army store counter. It was as though his disdain of human contact had converted itself into a craving for things humans had touched. The residue of the human spirit smeared on inanimate objects was all he could withstand of humanity. To contemplate, for example, evidence of human footsteps on the mat – absorb the smell of the quilt and wallow in the sweet certainty that many bodies had sweated, slept, dreamed, made love, been ill, and even died under it. Wherever he went, he took along his things, and was always searching for others. This thirst for worn things led to casual but habitual examinations of trash barrels in alleys and wastebaskets in public places….
All in all, his personality was arabesque: intricate, symmetrical, balanced, and tightly constructed – except for one flaw. The careful design was marred occasionally by rare but keen sexual cravings.”

&

“He abhorred flesh on flesh. Body odor, breath odor, overwhelmed him. The sight of dried matter in the corner of the eye, decayed or missing teeth, earwax, blackheads, moles, blisters, skin crusts – all the natural excretions and protections the body was capable of – disquieted him.”

I just love these descriptions. The beauty, the concepts, the words, the substance. And you don’t have to be a creepy pervert or a misanthrope to appreciate the simple human aspects of life, the residual human touches, footprints on a doormat, an old coffeepot that someone else’s coffee was made in long ago, scents that linger on objects, a blanket that comforted someone through the night, a typewriter that someone else’s fingers created a masterpiece with….even the dark parts and the bodily descriptions are beautiful. They are part of life.

I know many people are totally, utterly grossed out by the thought of many people touching one thing and touching what countless strangers have touched. It probably makes some people’s heart skip and not in a good way. But I just find it beautiful.

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I wish I could tell little Pecola that she’s beautiful. She IS beautiful. Her brown eyes, her dark skin, her innocent ways…everything. She’s beautiful just as she is. She doesn’t need blue eyes or fair skin. She’s perfect the way she is. I wish I could embrace her and tell her she’s beautiful in and out. All little girls and women should be encouraged to feel beautiful and worthy and encourage other girls to feel beautiful and important as well.
I wish I could have been in that candy store to help her pick out her candy and inspire her to be a happy, innocent little girl filled with joy just looking at the candy. Just like little girls should feel.
I found myself shattered by this novel. Beautifully shattered.
Characters in fiction aren’t real in our world but they do exist in the worlds of books, stories, writings, movies, in the brains and imaginations of all the gifted authors/writers.
And they are real in some strange sense.

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I strongly recommend it to anyone who loves novels, drama, profound messages and depth and beauty in writing.

“A good book has no ending.” ~R.D. Cumming

There’s another book I read and wrote about here called “314” Book II in a trilogy and in the book one girl is able to put her hands on any object and see everything that previously happened involving that object, even years ago. She can touch a pen and see who else touched it and she can touch walls and see all that happened within the confines of those walls. It’s overwhelming so she keeps her hands in her pockets a lot. I don’t believe in psychic stuff like that but I love the concept. It reminds me of life all around and how some parts of us still remain on the objects we touch and live on long after we do.

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“Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” ~P.J. O’Rourke

(LOL!)

It reminds me of all the mundane things we take for granted, all the simple things that make up our lives every single day. The things. Things that contain our breaths, fingerprints, scents, particles, sweat, tears, imprints…..

“My test of a good novel is dreading to begin the last chapter.” ~Thomas Helm

β€œI adore the feeling of being completely taken in by a book. When the tears of joy or sadness wet your cheeks. When you snort with laughter in a crowd and when you shout at the pages in anger.” ~ Unknown

Xoxo Kim

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One thought on “For the Love of Antiquarian Books & Things Touched

  1. Pingback: Imprints. <3 | A Dose of Inspiration

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