Thursday, October 1, 2009

Old Books

Aimee brought home a couple of volumes tonight (for research in her Victorian Lit class), of Cornhill Magazine, an English publication, from 1870 and 1894 respectively. While those are the dates of publication , it's not immediately clear when they were bound, and thus how old the books we now have in our house are. They are obviously very old though. If they were bound within a short period of publication, which would have been normal, then the books in my living room right now are quite ancient by our standards, and it's remarkable to hold them. The older was published when Ulysses Grant was president. We were in the midst of Reconstruction. The Civil War was only recently finished. As for the second volume, Grover Cleveland was president, Hawaii was not yet a territory, and America was still a backwater. So much has happened while these bound volumes of pulp sat safely on shelves that the world would be barely recognizable to period readers of the time. They have a wonderful musky smell that that feels like history itself, and a satisfying heft. The leather binding is cracked and one turns pages gently, lest they break and fall out. Just think about it for a moment; to hold a snapshot of culture from the world as it was in WW1, no WW2, no automobile or airplane, an America less than 100 years old, cowboys, Indians, the birth of baseball, 40 acres and a mule, and so on. That is an amazing thing.

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