Given the choice, I would always choose the old, battered, secondhand book over the brand new version. I’m not sure what it is about old books – whether it’s the feel of the well-worn cover in my hands; whether it’s the faded name on the flyleaf written in an elaborate hand no longer seen nor aspired to these days; or whether it’s the idea that so many other people have used it, read it, carried it around with them. Well: maybe I am sure. It is all of those things combined.
I long to know who “Frances, Christmas 1940” was, other than being the recipient of a lovely collection of poems by Longfellow. Did she read every poem, I want to know, because there is no clue left on the pages: no pencilled-in thoughts or questions; no dog-eared corners; no tiny notes slipped between pages – Oh! the excitement that would cause! Perhaps Frances did not even like Longfellow and forced a thin smile in thanks for the unwanted present; or perhaps it was such a treasure that it remained unread, unopened, unappreciated on a shelf except for its cover which would be dusted religiously every Monday – that would be a shame indeed.
If a library is giving away books,or a second-hand book store is having a sale, I can’t walk past, and the idea of a book being tossed into a recycling bin and being mulched up is horrifying. While I know I cannot save every book I see, I certainly have come home with many more than I should. These books have all had a life and deserve to have it extended as long as possible.
Not that I can hang onto every book I save; please don’t imagine some crazy hoarder person gradually losing rooms to increasing piles of salvaged books. Some prove themselves to be worthy of the recycler’s chipper; some smugly hiding behind a very artistic and gripping cover, prove themselves unable to live up to the outward show, but I still can’t be the one to actually throw them away. I guiltily pack them up and hand them over to the nearest charity shop in the belief that someone else will not only be intrigued, as I was, by the cover, but might also find the content worthwhile, too.
One book-lover’s trash, hopefully, is another book-lover’s treasure.