Readers say their old books are more than objects: They are physical reminders of love.
Your tattered old books remind you of parents and grandparents, of childhood, of grad school, of traditions or trips or memorable moments. Your worn-out books are more than objects: They are physical reminders of love.
In response to a column I wrote a couple of months ago about keeping worn-out books, readers sent scores of stories and photos — more than I have room to publish here. Here is a sample, and deep thanks to all who wrote.
Chuck Haga of Grand Forks, North Dakota (and a beloved former Star Tribune columnist) sent a photo of “Common Plants of Itasca State Park,” published by the Bell Museum. “The back cover is turned off and there are stains throughout — sweat, coffee, rainwater, blueberry pie, bug spray — but it has made 40 or more trips into the park with me,” he wrote.
Carolyn Light Bell, Minneapolis: “I have coughed out, given away, and donated to the little libraries many of my yellowing paperbacks and books. But my tattered ee cummings ‘Complete Poems, 1913-1962’ represents a part of my life that I deeply treasure. I once replaced the old one with a new one, trying to dress up my library. But as it turned out, I couldn’t bear to divest myself of this old book.”
Karen Kelly, Edina, Minnesota: “My copy of DH Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love’ is missing its cover because of the beating it took late one night in 1980. Senior year at Vanderbilt, trying to write a paper at 2 am that was (duh) due at 8 am One of my roommates was in the same boat. In a moment of punchy, stress-reducing melodrama, I got a laugh out of her when I stood and started bashing my book against the corner of a brick wall. I have saved this book not because I ever intend to read it again, but because it is a cherished memento of a cherished friend and a cherished time.”
Rebecca Loader, Minneapolis: “Mom gave my Great-Aunt Bertha a copy of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ for Christmas 1933. Everyone read this book. The red cover got tattered and the pages turned brittle. Many had dog ears from being used to mark readers’ places. The spine got loose and some of the photos detached from the binding.
“Mom got the book when Bertha passed away, and I read it for the first time when I was 12. Sometime along the way, pages 170-171 acquired several mysterious stains: Did Bertha prick her finger while she was sewing and leave some blood drops? Did Bertha spill coffee? The stains just added to the mystery of the book.”
Molly Koivumaki, Chaska, Minnesota: “The childhood book that I cannot part with is ‘The Night Before Christmas,’ which I received for Christmas in 1964 when I was 5 years old.
“On the inside cover of the book, my Mom wrote my name, Molly Anne Baird, and put my and my siblings’ names on the illustrations of four mice and three presents.
“1964 was a tough year for our family. Mom was in the hospital nearly the whole summer. At one point the doctor told Dad to bring the kids up to the hospital so she could say goodbye — but she absolutely refused to say goodbye. She lived for another 50 years. She passed away in 2014. It is such a wonderful gift to see her her beautiful handwriting, really a family treasure.”
Paula Baudhuin, Minneapolis: “My sister, who died at 54 in 2004, and I shared books for decades. Those books are full of underlining, comments and questions. When I pick up those books now, it is almost like having my sister back.”
Richard Terrill, New Hope, Minnesota: “My copy of ‘Walden’ with all my notes in it is now a sheaf of mostly loose pages. I bought a new copy thinking I’d transfer the notes from the old. But I never have. Right next to them both on the shelf, I see the rubber band holding together ‘A Sand County Almanac’ has broken.”
Dinesh Shenoy, Minneapolis: “I have had my copy of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ for probably 30 years. Each time I re-read it, I have to tape up some pages or the binding, but I will never buy a new copy. Having my childhood copy reminds me what a massive mental jolt it made in me as a teen and that it is a major lifelong influence on me.”
Ivy Wright, Duluth, Minnesota: “My copy of ‘101 Famous Poems’ is copyright 1916. It belonged to my grandmother, who would have been 25 years old that year. I keep it for the fact that she owned it, read it to pieces, and she was the most important person in my childhood.”
Janet Fee, Apple Valley, Minnesota: “At age 13 in 1974 I got my first summer job. With my first paycheck, I purchased my first book. I had always been a reader but up until then, all my books were through the library. The book is ‘The Wolf and the Dove’ by Kathleen Woodiwiss. As an adult, at one point I had over 4,000 books but this one I will never part with.”
Thomas R. Smith, River Falls, Wisconsin: “My most precious tattered book is a Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, received as an honors award my senior year in high school. But that is not the reason I treasure it. As I prepared to leave home for college, the first in my working-class family to do so, my father, in fondness and no doubt also in some sadness, printed my name and hometown on its cover in his blocky hand to identify it as mine. In the process, Dad inscribed his memory of him into this volume.”
Richard Terrill’s copy of “Walden” is falling to pieces, but he will not replace it.