I love it when the AbeBooks newsletter shows us interesting book covers. This particular edition features “The Prettiest Publications of the Past” and there are some lovelies. It’s almost enough to make me enter my credit card number right now so I can get a copy of The Book of Bugs for only $139.37.
Seas and Lands would cost not much over $80.
I could pick up Poppies and Wheat by Louisa May Alcott at $200…
But not really. I just like to look at the covers briefly, and then I go inside and delight in the artistry of the words, or I get caught up in the story or the vast worlds of ideas between the covers. I forget the pictures outside.
Still I wondered, do I have any pretty 19th century books on my shelves?
I own this copy of The Saints’ Everlasting Rest by the Puritan Richard Baxter. It was published in 1850 though he wrote in the 1600’s. I don’t actually find it pretty, but it’s the only one I found that has any decoration at all. It was given to my great-great-grandmother Margaret in New York City on the first day of 1859, when she was 24 years old and soon to be married.
I wonder if she read it? At the very back some words were penciled in and then erased. It wasn’t her fiancé who gave it, or anyone obviously family, for the message on the front flyleaf is signed somewhat formally “H.E. Browne”….
Well, you see how right off I’m concerned not with art but with the people or the book’s contents.
My favorite older book is from the 20th century, this copy of The Faithful Wife by Sigrid Undset. It was a recent gift to me from the shelves of an elderly friend, and I haven’t read it yet. But I think the design is very homey and wifey.
I’m reading The Gutenberg Elegies by Sven Birkerts these days, which is all about what’s inside the books and what goes on in our minds when we are reading literature. That paperback is on my nightstand, so it doesn’t show up on this handy-dandy bookshelf that Soldier made for me many years ago.
A disclaimer is in order: This son was pleased and happy to build a tabletop shelf according to the vision I described to him, but he made me promise to fill in the screw holes and crevices and paint or varnish it, because he wasn’t happy with the roughness of the finished result. I lied, or broke my promise, and never finished it, and here I am showing the whole world. My children put up with a lot.
But it is beautiful, isn’t it? And when our older son Pathfinder saw it he immediately knew that he wanted several for his house, too.
Now go look at or inside a book.