Old Books and Why I Love Them

“Percival Ford wondered why he had come.  He did not dance. He did not care much for Army people. Yet he knew them all–gliding and revolving there on the broad lanai of the Seaside, the officers in their fresh-starched uniforms of white, the civilians in white and black, and the women bare of shoulders and arms.” This is the opening to the short story, “The House of Pride” by Jack London, published in 1925.

If a used book store has a section with old hardcover, yellow-paged books, that’s where you will find me.  I often pull up a chair and carefully remove them, looking at the dates published, the author, the first line of the book, and the condition of it.  I don’t mind that the cover is worn or the binding is loose. It’s the pages containing another place and time that draws me in.

I love the wording, the dialects, and the numerous ways authors have created interest to grab readers on the first page.

“Don, how would you like to visit the land of volcanoes? To go to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes?” Asked Captain Frank Sturdy, Don’s uncle, as he turned from a paper that he had been reading with absorbed interest. (A Tom Swift Series Book, published in 1925 and written by a contracted writer by the name of Victor Appleton.)

I am also fascinated by the numerous writers that adopted a pen name as assigned by a publisher in the 1920’s and 30’s and wrote for very little money in order to have their work read. The average wage was 14 to 22 cents per hour, or about $25 per week in the 20’s.  While I cannot find an exact sum paid to a writer for a short story, I am sure it was not much given the average pay of the common man.

Publishing in the 1920’s, as now, was not cheap compared to wages. Few people could afford to buy a lot of books to keep, so libraries were utilized in the city.  People who could afford books would often lend them out after reading.  This was a time when only 16 percent of the households had electric lighting.  Most people still had oil lamps and candles, no central air conditioning, and no television or radio.  Books and games were important forms of entertainment when anyone had time for it.

I love looking at the embossed covers, vellum pages and artful drawings in early century books. They represent a time when books were not mass produced, and art and creativity in the published books were especially important for the author to be well represented.  I imagine marketing was much more difficult because of lack of technology and primary source of marketing being word of mouth and the newspaper.

When I owned a book store in Indiana, I would investigate authors and their books even if they were not well known.  I appreciate the work that goes into the creation of a story and then giving it life in the form of a published book for others to share.

I am never quite as serene as when I am surrounded by piles of books, whether reading them or researching to write my own.  A profound sense of peace settles on my soul when turning the pages of a book.


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