My husband and I have a Christmas tradition. Every year, we go to a holiday show and purchase a new nutcracker for our mantle. This year we saw David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries, but what we discovered in historic downtown Petersburg, Virginia was not just the cozy Sycamore Rouge Theatre.
What won me over about Penniston’s Alley Antiques was not the blue and white china, the antique secretary desks, or the Staffordshire porcelain dog figurines that I felt like I knew all about from Emyl Jenkins’ latest mystery The Big Steal. What won me over was that scattered throughout the entire shop, on shelves, on counters, on tables, and on chairs, were small stacks of books. We found our perfect Santa-clad nutcracker, but we uncovered so much more. As I said to my husband, my weakness could be so much more dangerous than old books.
As I debate whether I’m okay with the idea of e-books, there is something so comforting and personal about holding ninety year old leather binding in my hands. The gold font on the cover is slightly cracked with age, but the printed fleur-de-lis on Rostand’s Cyrano De Bergerac gives it strength. My new book was copyrighted in 1920, and a faint sticker inside shows it once sold for ninety-six cents.
Whose hands did this play pass through? Did an actor practice these lines in the Roaring Twenties? Did these words distance a reader’s mind from the Great Depression? Was this blue cover hidden and covered in dust for decades? The stories of tangible books are almost as intriguing to ponder as the stories contained between the covers. I can’t help myself.