Vintage books are magic portals to the past
I was around six years old, bored and feeling down. We were visiting my mother’s parents who lived a four hour drive away and as the first born, there was no one with whom to play. There weren’t even kids in the neighborhood my age.
My grandmother noticed me sitting droopy at the kitchen table and asked if I was okay.
“There’s nothing for me to do.”
She looked at me thoughtfully for a moment, nodded, walked out of the room and returned a few minutes later carrying a box.
“These were your mother’s books when she was your age,” she told me. “You can look at them, but you must be very careful. Treat them gently.”
I pulled out a Mother Goose book with weird loopy handwriting-type fonts, The Children’s Hour, Little Sunny Stories (illustrated by Johnny Gruelle of Raggedy Ann and Andy fame), Four Little Kittens and Four Little Puppies (black and white photographs of the little ones dressed in human clothes), a few books with cute illustrated babies and an educational book on the pilgrims. That box was my go-to treasure trove for the next year or so of visits. As I grew older and my reading skills improved, I would scour my grandparents’ wall-to-wall-floor-to-ceiling bookcase, which included The Oregon Trail and beautifully illustrated classic novels, such as Prince Valiant.
My other grandparents lived in the same area (my parents grew up in the same small town), but in the country and I don’t remember ever being bored there. There were times, of course, when there wasn’t much going on and I tried to find something to read on their bookshelves, but for the most part they only contained general fiction and my grandfather’s beloved Louis L’Amour books. One day, the door to the one of the bunkhouses was open, so I stepped in to learn what old stuff had been stashed in there. My grandmother had relocated my father’s childhood books from the house to the small room’s bookshelves. I discovered Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys had been a couple of my father’s favorite series. There were also a couple of “big little books” and a few Mad paperbacks.
Vintage books fascinate me. I suppose it’s because I feel as if I’m traveling back in time. Not only am I holding a book that was published in, say, 1912, but it’s with the knowledge that over 100 years ago, other people held this same book.
In this week’s podcast, I spoke with a few vendors at the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair, where customers and vendors alike share a passion for vintage literary personal memories and collective histories.