What a charming little book. The binding is tan canvas buckram, black lettering on the spine and front cover. The black floral or ivy design is attractive and repetitive and is accented by a faint green background. The green complements the black lettering and cloth binding. The proportions are pleasing, and that it is squatty makes it even more so. It is perfectly palm-sized. The title page is also a work of art. Given the subject matter, I think it is a hoot that the book presents itself as a generally serious undertaking. The paper is on the thick side, ample margins, with type set in italics and capitals hither, thither, and yon. Newman’s illustrations suit the text to a T. Really a fine marriage of image and narrative. Ade’s verbal economy is staggering considering how forcefully he paints a picture and conjures a feeling and makes it hilarious at the same time.
This is the sort of book Geneva Henderson kept at the checkout desk at her shop on Bransford Avenue near 100 Oaks in Nashville. I visited that little cottage-turned-bookshop probably weekly, on average, all through college and the couple years following. She kept small books like this by the check-out desk. Maybe she hoped they would be impulse buys or because their size was such that the desktop was a handy place to keep them. It was a two bedroom house of either the late 30s or perhaps immediate postwar vintage. Small proportions all the way around. So naturally she filled each and every available space with shelves. She named it ‘Book Discoveries.’ Apt name. I anticipated discovering something new. But i came to appreciate even more her warm and cheerful spirit. She was always up for conversation in spite of clearly not feeling well, often I might add, from chemotherapy treatments. Some days she would not feel up to it. The young guy she hired to fill-in thought he knew books; perhaps he knew how to leverage the budding internet for online sales, perhaps, but his desk persona left a lot to be desired. I never chatted with him. Also, I never got the vibe from that dude that he was even really a bookish person at all. Geneva, however, had been a bookish person for 70 years or more. Sometimes she set aside a few new arrivals for me to see before she put them out for general browsing. Once among them were some owned by J. W. Shepherd. I will always remember that kindness. The dude just sat behind the side desk hunched over a monstrosity of a desktop computer. Ah well, this isn’t about him. He would make a good subject for George Ade and Clyde Newman, though. Be that as it may, Ade is exactly the kind of thing she would have liked, and exactly the kind of thing she would have pointed out to me, giggling as she recommended it. I guess that is why when I read it I think of her, and that shop.
I hope you enjoy this one. I might post another sometime. They are inspired.
The Fable of the Caddy Who Hurt His Head While Thinking.
One Day a Caddy sat in the Long Grass near the Ninth Hole and wondered if he had a Soul. His Number was 27, and he almost had forgotten his Real Name.
As he sat and Meditated, two Players passed him. They were going the Long Round, and the Frenzy was upon them.
They followed the Gutta Percha Balls with the intent swiftness of trained Bird Dogs, and each talked feverishly of Brassy Lies, and getting past the Bunker, and Lofting to the Green, and Slicing into the Bramble—each telling his own Game to the Ambient Air, and ignoring what the other Fellow had to say.
As they did the St. Andrews Full Swing for eighty Yards apiece and then Followed Through with the usual Explanations of how it Happened, the Caddy looked at them and Reflected that they were much inferior to his Father.
His Father was too Serious a Man to get out in Mardi Gras Clothes and hammer a Ball from one Red Flag to another.
His Father worked in a Lumber Yard.
He was an Earnest Citizen, who seldom Smiled, and he knew all about the Silver Question and how J. Pierpont Morgan done up a Free People on the Bond Issue.
The Caddy wondered why it was that his Father, a really Great Man, had to shove Lumber all day and could seldom get one Dollar to rub against another, while these superficial Johnnies who played Golf all the Time had Money to Throw at the Birds. The more he Thought the more his Head ached.
I haven’t fished in a good long while, but I remember the feeling of almost having a big one reeled in only to have the line break, or the hook snaps or comes loose, or you drop the fish and it flops back into the water. The fish lives to swim another day.
In bookish terms, here are some that got away:
–When I left Ezell-Harding and cleared out my classroom, I had to let go of Encyclopedia Brittannica, about 60 years or more of National Geographics, and a set of Great Books. Easy come, easy go since I got the two sets from the school library book sale, and inherited much of the NG horde from grandparents and other library downsizing sales. But I used all of them and if space were not an option I’d have kept them and would have them still.
–When I left DCHS, I sold three shelves of excellent Social Gospel Movement material. Several firsts were in the lot: Rauschenbusch, Peabody, Matthews, Strong, Batten, Sheldon. Though some got away, we paid the light bill.
–I winnowed again in advance of the move to Abilene and unloaded almost all of my commentaries. Truthfully, I don’t miss them so much. I knew I would have ready access to the same titles plus more and better and newer ones. Still and all, they were useful tools for the tasks at hand. In the same fit of clean-out I also sold an incomplete set of a late nineteenth-century printing of the Talmud, the Rodkinson edition in English. I got them, less 3 or 4 vols, at Amitin’s in St. Louis. What a fabulous shop. They were ex libris St. Louis Public Library circa 1890’s with old card slips, card pockets, bookplates, the works, all intact. They were rebound in library buckram of 1927 vintage, shellacked, and all through had cracked pages at the gutters, marginalia, hand-wear, patina. The set was a witness to the expansive ideals of a great public library with all the charm you could hope for once you realized you weren’t getting a pristine matched set. Larry Amitin knocked the price in half when he learned I was teaching Old Testament to high school kids. ‘Anyone doing that needs the Talmud!,’ he nearly screamed. But, moving day was coming and some things just had to go. I think I sold it to Randy Elder, but either I can’t remember or blocked the memory. A big one. It got away.
–One day at Dad’s Old Bookstore in Nashville in about 1996 or so I saw a book that bore the ownership inscription, in a fine clear penned hand, of Tolbert Fanning. It was a mathematics or science or chemistry text. But that really didn’t matter; it was the association that mattered. And Dad knew it. The shop was very nice, wide selection with good quality stock in a super location which kept new items coming in, and, regrettably lots of neat old items going out. I dropped by Dad’s often because there was always something new to discover. Come to think of it, after my success at 8th Ave, I next ventured to Dad’s sometime the following spring, I think. Probably 1992 or 1993. I remember, distinctly, not being able to afford much of what I saw. I left with some Cincinnati Reds ephemera, which all in all was about as good a haul as I could expect. I learned that if I wanted something from Dad’s I’d have to skip lunch more than twice to get it. But back to Fanning. I think he priced it somewhere north of $75. It may as well have been $750, because I could not afford it. When I scrounged up 75 bucks and went back, alas, it was gone. My line snapped and someone else reeled it in. I hope whomever got it realizes who T. Fanning was.
–Closer to home, the Book Attic in Madison was a frequent haunt. They had a decent popular-level religion section and an equally nice history and literature section. I should have bought E. A. Elam’s Life of J. M. Kidwill (1893) when I had the chances. Chances, plural. Unlike the Fanning book at Dad’s, it was cheap. Maybe 10 bucks, maybe. And it was signed and inscribed by the author. Why I put it off I don’t know, and why I thought I needed whatever it was I got, I don’t know. It was in the shop for the longest, until one day it was gone. I didn’t know what I missed until I learned more about Elam. Then I felt the impress of the missed opportunity.
This follows a post of a few days ago containing Burton Rascoe’s autobiographical reflection on the purchase, with his own earnings, of his first book.
I was fifteen years old and at last persuaded my mother to let me drive into Nashville to check out the antique store on 8th Avenue, South which advertised itself as having a large selection of used books. I either saw the ads in the paper or the phone book. While I forget the name of the bookstore, I remember the anticipation since I also liked antique stores. Two for one. With few thousand books inside an antique store, surely something would catch my eye. I had some money, stashed from a summer of mowing grass for Randy Stamps, but I did not yet have a license to drive. My persistence probably wore her thin, but she relented I think after I was able to convince her that traffic on I-65 would be lightest on a Saturday morning. It was. Which worked out well since that may have been the first time I navigated our Buick on the interstate. The weather in Nashville, Tennessee on November 30, 1991 was on the cool side, not cold, but overcast. I remember the grey sky.
The books were way in the back left corner, in three adjoining rooms. The largest had shelving probably nine feet high on the outside wall of the store, which was an early 20th c. brick store front. Tile floor, high tin-covered ceilings, lots of antiques. The two smaller rooms were adjuncts to the large one, probably all offices in an earlier day. They had lower ceilings within easy reach and both were lined with shelving packed full, most of them double-stacked. The big room had a stool and a small step-ladder available on a self-serve basis to access the upper shelves. Books in every conceivable genre and the shelves were well-labelled. Every so often there was handwritten 3×5 card thumb-tacked to the front of a shelf reminding you that prices are in the inside front end page, in pencil, non-negotiable. And reshelve where you found it, please.
Antique stores I knew. Bookstores I knew. But this was the first used-book store I’d seen up close and in-person. The bookstore I knew best was Jan’s Hallmark. It was two doors down from H. G. Hill’s grocery store in Hendersonville, Tennessee, next to Ace Hardware. They sold new books and could order almost anything. They carried lots of magazines, Popular Science, Hot Rod, Car and Driver, Field and Stream. We went to church with the owners. I bought Mad Magazines there. Each Christmas I bought a Louis L’Amor for Grandad there. If I think for minute I can almost always remember the way the place smelled. Like paper. Not musty, but it was a distinct smell and it was certainly paper. Gift wrapping, greeting cards, magazines, and paperbacks.
The antique store on 8th Avenue smelled like cigarettes and varnish. Three rooms smelled like cigarettes, varnish, and old musty paper. When you first walked in, on a dark buffet not six feet from the door, sat a fine set of Scott’s Bible in six volumes. I already loved it. I eyed that set every time I went in thereafter (which was often after I arrived on the DLC campus three years later). $175 for the set. I never in my life saw such a price tag on a book, much less a fine matched set circa about 1810. It took be aback. I later acquired a set of Scott’s Bible, and each time I see it I remember that distinct impression I had then.
I remember the layout of the big book room and one of the smaller rooms. The smaller room held the history sections: military history, political histories, all kinds of world and American histories, you name it. State and local histories, too. Inside, right in the middle, was a small wooden desk such as one would find in a child’s room. Not large. Plain with three or so drawers on each side of the knee-hole. Painted green? I think. On it was a single desk lamp, which helped because otherwise there was no light in the drop ceiling. The larger room, about in the middle of the long exterior wall, just below waist-height, held the religious section. Those would have been my interests in November 1991. I probably also looked for anything about old cars or motorcycles. Floyd Clymer paperbacks? Hot Rod issues? I don’t think he had anything like that, or if he did it was unremarkable or otherwise did not add to what I already owned. Any memory of the other small room is now lost. The magazines, such as they were, were around the corner past the toilet. What antique store doesn’t have more Life magazines than anyone wants? And National Geographics. I do remember those. Probably a literal ton of them.
This is enough to say it made an impression, quite an impression. But it is less than accurate to say this Saturday morning experience birthed my bibliophilia. It did not, for in fact I never was not a book-lover. I never was not a reader. I was read to as a child, and the presence of my ‘own’ books in my ‘own’ space is as much a feature of my earliest memories as anything else. Neither did this Saturday morning experience birth an interest in antiquarian books. By age fifteen I even owned some old books. Each was a hand-me-down either from my parents or grandparents. I also bought books. Always at school book fairs. Always. With my own money, and usually also my parents or grandparents would get me a book or two as well.
No, bibliophilia did not leap onto the scene. It neither crashed down on me nor flashed up at me. There was no epiphany.
Rather, it crept up on me in such a normal non-descript way that on November 30, 1991, standing at the counter with Russell Conwell in one hand and a ten-dollar bill in the other felt so natural that there was nothing to do but go right ahead.
It was no epiphany, but it was eureka, and in hindsight I can say surely it was some kind of rubicon. I think every bibliophile can tell a story about how they crossed their line. It is a liminal experience all right to fork out your own hard-earned dough for a book someone else doesn’t want, doesn’t know what they have, or at least is willing to sell if price is right. Every bibliophilus antiquarius can take you back to a moment, perhaps the moment of acquisition for book zero, their first old book.
I was aware of James A. Garfield. His tragic assassination, and that so early in his administration, gained for him a place in my ten-year-old consciousness. (I at one point had all the presidents memorized, in order from Washington to Reagan, thanks of course–who is surprised?– to a fascinating book in the Hendersonville Elementary School library about the US presidents). I was also aware of Garfield because my great-grandfather attended Hiram College, the same school which Garfield attended, taught at and served only a few years earlier. My great-grandfather’s youngest brother was named James Abram Garfield Ice. Family lore has it that sometime about 1908 he rode into town and for all we know kept right on riding. Nary hide nor hair was ever heard of him since. His place in the genealogy my grandmother compiled has a date of birth and question mark. That also made an impression. So I was aware of James Abram Garfield.
When I saw Russell Conwell’s The Life, Speeches, and Public Services of James A. Garfield, Twentieth President of the United States. Including an account of his assassination, lingering pain, death, and burial (Portland, Maine: George Stinson and Company, 1881), bound in publisher’s brown cloth, modestly shelf-worn but complete, with illustrations intact, I knew. This is it. This is the one. I will buy this one. Every bibliophile knows the feeling.
I was staring down the shelves of the history section in the small room. The desk lamp helped, but it was slow going in the corners where it was darkest. And slow going because they were double-shelved. It was gloriously slow-going. And they were gloriously double-shelved. Not a chore in the least. Ooo, look at that! And wow, that’s sounds good! Truthfully about all of lot of it was over my fifteen-year-old head. I was not prepared at that age to recognize scholarship. Nor equipped to pick out the scholarship from so much rubbish that often fills used-book stores. But it was all new, and all used, and some of it old and that alone was exciting.
So there in the small room about a shelf or two up from the floor, near the corner but not in it, I saw a book older than many of the others. That much I could tell. My eye even at that age was trained by experience in the Reynoldburg genizah to notice an old book. I snapped it up, looked it over once quickly then again slowly. I knew this was it. I kept browsing so long as my mother’s patience allowed, but Conwell was either right at hand or right in my hand. Nevermind we were the only souls in the place, save for the nice lady at the counter. But should a contender enter the ring, they would not leave with the book I found!
I felt something like a mixture of conquest, or conclusively solving a mystery and happening upon a treasure, and a solid dose of sheer dumb luck. Also relief. Probably greed, too. In my mind I built up this experience for a few weeks, if not months, I don’t remember. Going to Nashville was sort of a big deal. It’s not like we had to plot the journey or anything, it is just that we didn’t often go unless we needed something we couldn’t get close by. So it would have been a big let-down to drive all the way into to 8th Avenue, South only go home empty-handed. But Russell Conwell was no consolation prize. It was a genuine find, and I was proud of it.
I finished casing the joint and decided I could do no better that this choice item. My mother also said, “I’m leaving now and unless you want to walk home, you are too.”
It cost ten dollars. $10.78 with tax. I paid the nice lady at the counter, she put Conwell in a paper bag and I drove us home.
Every library I had ever seen, been in, or heard of stamped their claim to ownership all over their books. My mother wrote her name in all of the books she had in her classroom. Every book I received as a gift, I think, came with a gift inscription in it. All of the books at 5775 Refugee Road bore at minimum one of two names, sometimes both: K. C. Ice or M. C. Ice. So I thought everyone put their names in their books. Surely it was good and right although I can’t conceive of why I thought I needed to do such a thing, other than sheer imitation. I had no siblings from which I need to mark my literary territory. I was not about to lend my books, so if they do not leave home there is no reason to indicate a return address.
I wrote my full name, the date, and the price, followed by a decisively-written #1 as a capstone to my accomplishment. Gosh I was proud of it. I guess I thought at time the commencement of a personal library deserved at very least the kind of formality such as obtained for communications to and from the state, or from one’s mother when you were really in trouble. That is the only time I heard my full name, so I learned to associate it with important occasions. So why not emblazon your name on your book? I did. It felt so good. Pomp and circumstance for a party of one please.
If you have not already picked up on this irony, let me spell it out forthrightly just here. By November 1991 I had a shelf full of books. Shelves, plural, actually. In a very real way, not a thing began on 30 November 1991. Not one thing. Russell Conwell was just another in a long line of books I bought.
Yet up to that point it was the oldest, and for all the reasons I describe above, it was unique.
I guess that is why I denominated this one as number one.
With thirty years behind me, here are some thoughts.
–I knew then that I wanted to learn and understand and that there were some things available in old books that I might not get otherwise. And that if I was to learn and understand I could do such a thing for myself and not rely only on what I have heard or been told. In this I am indebted to three or four high school teachers. By my sophomore year of high school I had already studied under three of them; the fourth would become my English teacher the following year. The larger context surrounding 30 November 1991 was the beginning of the life of my mind, at least in a self-conscious way. I was curious and old books if they do anything feed and breed curiosity. It is still the same now.
–I think that is the best way to explain why this book is ‘Number One.’ Number one makes no sense aside from numbers two and three…all the way to five thousand or ten thousand, or more. I know without any doubt that I had then a clear sense that this was the beginning of a library. I had purpose and intent. I had no idea what books would constitute such a library and no idea how I would pay for them. But I had then every intention of building a personal library along whatever lines interested me, and all I needed to do was sleuth enough to locate them and work enough to buy them. These books would help me learn, they would become teachers and tutors. I did not have the language then to think of them as conversation partners, but they would become that, too. Some bibliophiles acquire or collect books only or primarily as objects. I understand, and sympathize, and appreciate such interests. They are not far from my mind. But I have always acquired books because of what they can teach me. But you build a library–you keep them–because they can teach and re-teach. Libraries evolve, sure, but they also are remarkably stable, on the whole. The stability and kept-ness of the books is what I’m after here. I knew then I wanted to build a library to retain, to go back to over and over again. By and large, I have done that. Tastes changes, interests change. You learn new things and collect in different areas. It should change. Things come and go. Sure. But even through all the change and in all of the stability, private libraries reflect their librarians.
–I believed then that the past was worth knowing about. I believed then that the past mattered. I did not have any conceptual framework in place to distinguish between the events of the knowable past with constructed history. I had no consciousness of history as a discipline and I naively conflated history with the past. But I knew old books were once new books. I knew in some basic sense that old books contained the thoughts of their day, and thereby contained a means of access to an earlier time. I knew they were a snapshot of their time. I knew then that the object itself (aesthetics aside) could hold information about the past, and information from the past. Family Bibles for example, contain both the words of scripture, sometimes in beautiful form and blank pages upon which my ancestors chronicled their vital statistics. They also in rare instances reflected self-consciously by means of notations, underlines, parenthetical comments, and sometimes an outright burst of poetic or prosaic reflection. The books said something sure enough; and the containers themselves conveyed information. Same now as then. I’m still learning what the books might teach.
–The upshot here is that by 1991 I became interested in the totality of the printed book as an object by which to learn about the past. I could not have articulated it that way at the time, but I think that is where I was headed. For example, all appearances suggest the first owner of this copy of Conwell’s Life of Garfield, was W. A. Bills of Farmington, Tennessee. I know this because he, too, scrawled his name across most of the front blank endpaper. Already there was a story of a past owner who had his own reason’s for acquiring and using the book. Already there was a sense of the past with its own beckoning unknowns. It is a trite sense of wonder, but it is a place to begin. For what it is worth, it is one of the places I began.
–I read Conwell’s book right away. I did not finish that day, but soon thereafter. I no longer annotate in pen, and never annotated or created marginalia in a heavy way. But I will occasionally scrawl notes on slips of paper. Evidently I was doing that as early as 1991. Point being: I buy to read and while there are many I have not read through, I read in just about all of them, even if only for a quick reference. Looks like I read Conwell all the way through. Someone asked me once, have you read all those books? Well, some of them I’ve read twice. True, some of them I have read twice. But a lot I just read in, here or there, now and again. But I read Conwell through and began it that afternoon. Not much has changed: I read something in each new book. It was a habit formed early and I blame elementary school book fairs.
I returned to that shop on 15 January 1993 and will tell about that acquisition in a future post. The trips became more frequent after I moved out for college, and I might have bought more than two books there over the years. But so far as I can remember only these two books stand out.
Thirty years on I am still as excited about what a used book store or antique shop might hold as I was in November 1991. I am still as curious and the pull of old books is as strong now as then.
“The first book I ever purchased out of my own earnings was a copy of Emerson’s Essays in a cheap A. L. Burt reprint. I was thirteen years old, and I bought the book out of my salary of $1.50 a week as a carrier of a newspaper route in a small town in Oklahoma. Proudly I pasted into that book an oblong piece of paper on which was inscribed in ink, “Private Library of Burton Rascoe. No. 1.”
“I had had other books, but they had been given to me by my parents and friends, bought for me. I had early developed a habit of reading. I was precocious in that regard, for my grandmother forced my retention and co-ordination so that I was able to spell before I could walk and read before I went to school. But my reading up until I was twelve years old was haphazard. I read Wild West stories and lives of the President, books of adventure and exploration, the Horatio Alger, Jr, and Henty books, romantic novels my mother owned, Owen wiser and Winston Churchill (the American), Mark Twain and Bret Harte, the Bible, Dickens, and whatever books I could lay hands on.
“My people were not bookish. There were very few books in our house in my childhood–a large [p. 62] illustrated family Bible, Dante’s Inferno illustrated by Gustave Dore, a pictorial history of the Spanish-American War, a book of drawings by Frederic Remington, some novels by E. P. Roe, Hall Caine, Marie Corelli, Charles Major, Amelia E. Barr, John Fox, Jr, Gertrude Atherton’s The Conqueror and a few other popular romances of the day, an odd volume or two of Dickens, a book on arctic exploration, and little else. I devoured all these and craved more. When a public library was organized by the public-spirited citizens of the pioneer town and opened in a barnlike room on the second floor of a two-story office building, I was one of the first to make use of the books bought and contributed. My thirst for knowledge began to develop. Then I heard a Methodist preacher, Bishop Quayle, famous for his oratory, deliver a sermon once in which he quoted so tantalizingly from Emerson that I looked up Emerson in the library and read Emerson’s essay on “Self-Reliance.’ The essay fascinated me. I resolved to own a book of Emerson’s essays for my very own. Moreover, I then and there decided that someday I would own and cherish a great number of books in a library I had added to myself.
–Burton Rascoe, The Joys of Reading, Life’s Greatest Pleasure. New York: Nelson Doubleday, Inc. 1937, pages 61-62.
My experience is not much different. My mother’s family was not very bookish, certainly not so compared to the Ice side of the family. The Ice’s were bookish a century before I ever arrived on the scene, and some of them very books I own today. Though the Carter’s were not bookish–if by that you mean accumulators of books and builders of personal libraries–they were readers, chiefly of the daily newspapers and a range of popular magazines from National Geographic to Gospel Advocate. Besides books of local history, they owned World Book Encyclopedia which I devoured. They encouraged my bookishness. The Ice’s were in every sense of the word bookish. And they, too, encouraged my bookishness.
In a future post I will indulge in a bit of autobiography about the first book I purchased with my own earnings. I was fifteen, and that was almost exactly thirty years ago. Like Rascoe, it was my first, yet it was not the first.
Now this is quite a helpful place to begin. It is from a perspective of a bookseller, a high-end one at that, in which Dr. Pirages introduces facets of the field through stunning array of examples, each one somehow surpasses the other. You will not be disappointed by following the links to his additional videos.
where for many years he was cubicled on the ground floor in Study 45 and then on January 15, 1960 elevated to the top floor in the large Study K, whither he went seven days a week, arriving often before the night shift had left and toiling there into the night. His office was a vast array of tables and desks filled with books, mail, and his manuscripts; of numerous locked files; of such equipment as a ladder for books, a type-writer, and odd tools. The one place in his crowded office where there was never a book and where no one was ever permitted to sit was the eighteenth-century chair of the first professor of Hebrew at Harvard, Judah Monis (1688-1744).”
–George Hunston Williams, “Harry Austryn Wolfson (1887-1974), At Home and Yet Homeless at Harvard” Profiles from the Beloved Community [Harvard Divinity School, 1976], pp. 7-8.