Going from the top down: Tennyson is, as longtime readers will know, my favorite poet, and thus, when it comes to the library book sale, I have a weakness for grabbing volumes of his poetry. I was especially glad to see this, however, since it's been a very long time since I read Idylls of the King and was thrilled to see a copy here. Yes, I already own a copy, but that's not the point! (And anyway, my other copy is kind of neat in its own regard, printing the text on the right side of the open page only, with the left given to explanatory footnotes. Obviously it's a "teaching" edition.)
Next down we have a travel book, The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux. I've never read any Theroux, but I've heard lots of good things about him, and I have grown to love good travel narrative writing a lot over the last few years, so I was glad to pick this up.
Then, The Wisdom of Kahlil Gibran. I've read some Gibran of late, and I'm keenly interested in pursuing his work. I'm not sure what in this volume I already own -- probably most of it -- but that's not bothersome to me at all.
Below that is Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini. I know that Sabatini was quite popular in his day, and, like most such authors, has fallen out of fashion nowadays, but I've always been interested to see what he's like, and of course, I love a good pirate tale, so we'll see. Who knows when I'll get to this one, of course, but there it is. The book sale is always a good source for copies of very old books, the bestsellers of yore; it's not uncommon for me to thumb through a very old book titled "Best Loved Poems" or something like that and realize that I don't recognize any of the names of the poets contained within. I always find myself hoping that these books find homes.
Next is something called The Parables of Peanuts. It looks like some kind of theology or moral philosophy book, using Peanuts as its inspiration. To be honest, I grabbed this on a whim.
On the bottom is Shakespeare's England, which I picked up to help in a future project of mine -- to learn more about the Bard and his world. (I'll have more to say about this project in time.)
The most interesting book I found today, though, was that thick one second from the bottom of the stack.
It is a collection of the works of George Gordon, Lord Byron, and it cost me all of one dollar. I adore very old books, and I gravitate toward them often at the library sales. Some, I admit, I purchase with the intent of listing them on eBay, but in most cases I've kept them for my own collection. Not only do old books on the shelves look cool, but there's a unique tactile sensation, I think, in actually reading a very old book.
This one is in relatively decent condition, with the most wear and tear being present on its spine:
The binding is in decent shape, though, and the pages are all bright and have lost none of their contrast. But as I started thumbing through the book, I discovered that it's not just a literary time capsule of sorts, but also a very small window into a couple of lives. Here is what I found immediately upon opening the front cover:
The book plate on the endpaper indicates the this volume belonged to a James Resetarits, who indicates in his tiny script on the flyleaf that he lived in Buffalo ("Bflo") in 1975. (I've never seen that name before, ever.)
Thumbing through the book, I discovered a common feature of very old books: multiple flyleafs. (The flyleaf is the blank page one finds immediately inside the front cover, opposite the endpaper. Older books have more than one flyleaf.) On the final flyleaf (five of them), I found this inscription:
To Dr. James Keech,
In appreciation for
your inspiration and
May we each find
our own perfect stream.
James & Karen Resetarits
So it seems that Mr. Resetarits owned this book for at least a year before he inscribed it and gifted it to Dr. Keech, whomever that may have been. (More on that a little later on, though.)
Books with gift inscriptions show up frequently at library book sales. I don't know how actual book collectors feel about this, but it never bothers me -- I always enjoy the indication that at some point in a book's life, the book was considered enough to be judged worthy of being a gift for someone special to someone else. I see this a lot in the children's books I pick up for The Daughter, and I always think there's something a bit wistful about those -- not unlike the sad nostalgia of, say, the second Toy Story movie, where toys are tossed aside by kids when they outgrow them. The same may apply to books.
But with cases like this, another possibility exists: that what I'm finding at the library sale is the detritus of a life that has since ended. Was this a prized volume in Dr. Keech's home library until his passing? I don't know. (I don't even know if Dr. Keech did pass yet.)
Continuing, I found this wonderful frontispiece:
Again, in books of this era, it's common to find a small piece of tissue paper bound into the book between the frontispiece and the title page, which is the case here. Turning that tissue paper past, covering the portrait of Lord Byron, I find the first of two title pages:
Of all the historical forms of illustration, I think the engraving is my favorite. I wish we'd see more of this these days.
And then, turning the page again, the second title page:
The age of the book is now apparent, isn't it? It's been a very long time since the style was to include a period at the end of each phrase on a title page. Note the use of the "Olde English" font on the phrase "The Suppressed Poems", and note especially the date at the bottom of the page, indicating the book's year of printing: 1866.
This volume is 143 years old. And I got it for a dollar.
For amusement, here is a brief taste of the "Sketch of His Life", as written by a J. W. Lake:
It was reserved for the present age to produce one distinguished example of the Muse having descended upon a bard of a wounded spirit, and lent her lyre to tell afflictions of no ordinary description; afflictions originating probably in that singular combination of feeling with imagination which has been called the poetical temperament, and which has often saddened the days of those on whom it has conferred. If ever a man was entitled to lay claim to that character in all its strength and all its weakness, with its unbounded range of enjoyment, and its exquisite sensibility of pleasure and of pain, that man was Lord Byron. Nor does it require much time, or a deep acquaintance with human nature, to discover why these extraordinary powers should in so many cases have contributed more to the wretchedness than to the happiness of their possessor.
Phew! The "life sketch" goes on thus, in very tiny print, for another thirty-four pages. I imagine that many an owner of this particular volume, back in the 1800s, skipped right past Mr. Lake in favor of Mr. Byron.
The rest of the book is a fairly typical example of an exhaustive collection of an author's work from the nineteenth century: it is very densely printed, with occasional engravings of art scattered throughout on thick plate-paper. But the story of this book doesn't end there, for tucked into the back cover, I found this:
This is the program for an "Honors Convocation" for Kappa Delta Pi, held in the Upton Hall Auditorium. (Upton Hall turns out to be part of the campus of Buffalo State College.) This convocation was held on April 30, 1976 (right about the time I was in the home stretch of Kindergarten). Tucked inside this program is a typewritten list of what I assume to be Kappa Delta Pi members who were in attendance at that convocation. Each student (listed on the left) is paired with a guest (listed on the right). At the bottom of the second page of this list (it's four pages, stapled together), I found this:
So, I can only surmise that Dr. Keech was the guest of Mr. Resetarits at this Honors Convocation, and that this book was presented to Dr. Keech on that occasion. There's nothing especially remarkable about this -- a gift from a student to a valued teacher, I suppose -- but the long winding road this book has taken impresses me greatly, as does the fact that owing to the presence of that program in the back cover, never removed even when the book was unshelved and boxed up for its trip to the library, I can trace one of those steps on that path.
I've written of this kind of thing before, and this fascination with finding things in old books has manifested itself in my fiction writing as well ("Elizabeth and Andrew"). Here's another fine example.