The elderly book on the shelf

I have always imagined Paradise to be a kind of library
– Jorge Luis Borges

I’ve been indulging my passion for books during the second half of this pregnancy. I figure that I’m not going to have much time for reading once the baby comes, so I have to get all my reading in now.

I have a very modest library of around 450 books, which is no where near my fantasy library, but it does keep me happy. What matters to me is not so much the quantity, but the quality of the reading material. I collect books that I love to read, not because they are collector’s items: Dickens is just as fine in a penguin classic as he is in a rare first edition – the words have no more meaning because they are bound in calf hide. Having said that, I do understand the lure of an old book. I even own a few from the 19th century, but again I bought these because I have a personal interest in the content and I wanted the original edition without the modern interpretations or modifications. I’ve always thought owning a library of first editions or rare books would be a burden, not only because they are expensive, but caring for such a library is a hefty responsibility. There is a feeling with old and rare books that you don’t possess them, you are simply a guardian for an unspecified term, a custodian charged with the responsibility of conserving the book until it is time to give it up – usually this is when the owner either wishes to make a profit from a rare edition or passes away. Enjoyment of such a book takes a back seat to its conservation – it must sit alone, or in company with others of its ilk, locked away, talked about but unread, fondled only in the minds of other bibliophiles. I could never be trusted with such a book. Last Christmas my husband bought me a copy of a favourite book I read when I was a child. It is an expensive first edition, in good condition and most of the time it sits inside a glass cabinet, safe from dust and sticky fingers. It is a most beloved edition and I will never part with it, but I regularly feel sorry for the book, sitting alone on the shelf. When the urge presents itself I take it out of the cabinet to caress the binding and get lost once more in the prose. I cannot leave it alone. My smudges and constant fingering of the pages is probably depreciating the book, but what is the point of owning a book if it is not going to be appreciated? A book is more than its condition, its cover or the words printed on its pages. A book is a thumbnail sketch of time, a record of an individual’s thoughts, fears and passions, a dialogue between the writer and the reader. Those are the things that stand out as important in a book for me. I care about the integrity of words more than the integrity of a cover. So I will keep my rare and elderly books, cherishing them by reading and handling them as they were designed to, and are meant to be.


About Sharon

Writer, bibliophile, dreamer and student of everything
This entry was posted in Bibliophilia, JOURNAL ENTRY and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The elderly book on the shelf

  1. Lua says:

    Hi Sharon! What a lovely post and I love that quote by Borges- that is how I picture heaven would be… 🙂 I cherish all my books, my modest library is my ‘happy place’ where I can just drift into another universe, get to know characters and have a taste of what heaven feels like!

    • Sharon says:

      Thanks Lua, I hear what you’re saying. Books allow the mind to escape in a way that no other medium can. It’s a world that exists for you and the writer, a shared experience of something beyond your own.

  2. drtombibey says:


    One Christmas my wife got me the complete works of Mark Twain. They came from an estate sale in Mississippi, and were in good condition. They were printed in the 30s I think, and smelled all musty and old. Some of the pages were dog-eared and a couple books appeared to have been read more than others.

    I often wonder who owned them, what they were like, and how much joy the books brought some family. Good old books have a long shelf life, huh?

    Dr. B

    • Sharon says:

      Dr B, what a wonderful gift! I have an early edition of “Human origins” by S. Laing printed in 1893 and have often wondered about its history. What did its first reader think and feel about this book? How many owners has it had? It’s in good condition considering it’s over 100 years old so someone must have cared for it. It makes me happy to know this book will live on beyond my expiry date.

  3. mesmered says:

    Hallo, Sharon. You echoed my own thoughts. And Jorge Luis Borges certainly did. I have a dream to convert the dining room (how old hat, everyone eats in the kitchen now) into my dream library. But in between times there is not a room in the house that doesn’t have books.
    I have old editions and new, keep what I love and re-cycle the rest. Even the children’s books and they are now in their 20’s and 30’s. And I often read the old editions. A book is meant for reading, nothing else!
    Lovely post.

    • Sharon says:

      Mesmered, even though I do have a library downstairs I still stash books all over the house. My library is just an attempt to at some kind of organisation, but booklovers are unable to contain their passion in one room. I hope you achieve your dream of your library.

  4. Jaya says:

    I’ve felt similarly about certain cherished books- old ones that are falling apart, and new glossy ones with extremely smooth pages- and I’m scared to touch the pages for fear of soiling them. With these books, it is almost always just the satisfaction of possession, of glowing with pride at the spines that line your bookshelf, but rarely ever the pleasures of reading. What is a book, after all, without a characteristic foodstain or fingerprint and the grime of a journey?

    • Sharon says:

      Jaya, Nothing moves the spirit for a bibliophile quite like an old book or a new one with a glossy cover. I certainly understand your comments about possession.

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