When my dad’s mother died in 1995, the family decided to sell her house. Which involved cleaning out all her stuff–including the basement. And though I was only 9 years old, the thing I remember about the clean-out process were the books.
Stacks of them. In the basement.
My grandparents, uncles and father are readers. Big readers. Coupling that with my grandmother’s inability to throw anything away, the books resembled an episode of Hoarders.
But I was allowed to choose a few. I still have them. And then some of those scads of books came to live with my parents and I and as I grew and had new interests, I was able to find a book fitting it. How perfect for a budding writer.
The first is the oldest book I own. It’s called Girls Who Became Famous by Sarah K. Bolton. First published in 1886. It’s biographical sketches of women, including Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and George Eliot with stern Victorian sketches of the young women. The inscription reads With Compliments From Anna M. Way. June 6th, 1887. The book is literally falling apart and the pages are yellowed, but most of the binding is still intact. I never open it for fear of it breaking.
Although who Anna Way was and what connection she has to my family remains a mystery. I’m not sure who Anna Way would have given the book to or if an ancestor maybe picked the book up at a sale or something.
Then there’s this paperback copy of A Night To Remember, which I devoured when I was 12 and obsessed with Titanic. The passenger lists in the back of the book were fascinating to me. When I decided to write my own “novel” about the Titanic–not, miraculously, based on the movie Titanic–I consulted A Night To Remember for details.
Then there is this book, a novel called Joy In the Morning, by Betty Smith, the author of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. I think I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I was 10 or so. The two books are very different, but I enjoyed the story. Joy in the Morning is autobiographical. Betty Smith, a Brooklynite, married a man who studied law at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The book mirrors that experience, as Carl and Annie get through their first year as a married couple–with Carl studying, and Annie allowed to sit on some of the college classes, including playwriting. As you can see, the book is in pretty delicate shape now, as it was when I read it, and the pages are yellow–and so is the cover. Fun fact: the back cover has black and white photos of the actors who played the leads in the movie version. I haven’t been able to track the movie version down.
So what are the oldest books you own? Where did you get them? Do they have inscriptions inside?