The aesthetics of old books

IMG_5833I happen to be lucky enough to live right near a used bookstore that is a literal BEHEMOTH of a bookstore–I’m talking about the acetone-ridden aircraft carrier with sticks and stacks of shelves . . . two-books deep sometimes, with the perpendicular stack accommodating the surplus.  The front desk near the old frontage building is PILED with new intakes and trade-ins.

So I waltzed in there looking for any wayward CS Lewis material and also a tactile edition of Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard To Find.  I managed to find the latter, along with an old version of Reflections on the Psalms.

Since I was in the literature section, I always scrape my eyes over the Mark Twain stuff, always hoping that they’ve accidentally shelved a first-edition copy of anything of his.  I found three different edition of my favorite of his books, The Innocents Abroad. I also found three different edition of Lewis’ Mere Christianity.

Then this thought occurred to me as I flipped through each edition, getting a “feel” for them. I wonder if the experience is in any altered by the changes made in placement, typesetting, and binding?

I have a 1902 copy of The Innocents Abroad–already 113 years old and still a copy published a generation after it first saw the light of day.  But the copy is replicate of what it was when it was first released. In other words, the copy I have is exactly the presentational paradigm Twain was looking at when he was alive.

The first time I read the book was an odd library copy.  Then, I bought a soft-bound Barnes & Noble edition (two of which I’ve lent to others and never got back–POOF!). But I’ve never read it in the original tactile form.

I begin to wonder if I’ve lost something by not doing that. That maybe a magical turn, nuance, joke, or witticism in another edition is lost to strategically-awful placement and typesetting.

I’d love to hear your theories on this.

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5 Responses to The aesthetics of old books

  1. Helene says:

    Old books are truly lovely. I have a first edition, first print of The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge and it is a gem. Her gentle whimsy comes through in the body of the book as well as in the its soul. Although it is the words within the book that are of true importance, I also enjoy the history that an old book carries. I have found many a “nuance, joke, or witticism” scribbled in the margins or an odd something used as a bookmark. I have found letters, photographs, and a train schedule from 1920. Books touch many lives throughout their own indefinite lives–I treasure my own time with them before they pass on to a new owner.

  2. Steve says:

    Don’t read “A Good Man is Hard to Find” before bed.

  3. Ron Giesecke says:

    Already did it. Now I’ve video blogged it. I’m uploading it now.

  4. Steve says:

    That should be interesting! It was one of the more disturbing stories of hers that I read.

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