“In used book stores it truly is Ask and you shall receive. Even if you don’t ask, the old books know, not just the words within, but so many of the thoughts of those who have read before you.” (Robert Mumm)
Thanks to those who’ve sent me their own tales of being called by used books. I’m starting with stories by Mark Jokerst and Robert Mumm. Hope to hear more stories from the rest of you!
“My favorite book finding me story came from reading a Wendell Berry piece where he mentioned Sir Albert Howard as one of the sources of today’s organic gardening. Soon after, poking around at Bay Books in Concord, an old but crisp edition of “An Agricultural Testament” caught my eye. Thanks. It never dawned on me the book was reaching out for me; I thought I had found the book!” . . . Mark Jokerst
And from Robert Mumm . . .
“In a used book store in Maryland, a book was waiting for me. I didn’t know it, but it was and it took but a very short time for it to catch my attention. It wasn’t a bright new book in great condition; rather it seemed a bit tired and dowdy. It was a well-used old book and the only book I really looked at. My son and daughter-in-law had wanted to show me their favorite book store, and there was just time for a brief stop on our way to the airport for my return flight back to California.
I have been working to put together some family background for my kids and found there is really a lot I don’t know about my father and almost nothing about the family before that. My father came to this country from the district of Schleswig in Northern Germany on his own when he was fifteen, so in a way the chain back beyond was broken. He did tell many fascinating stories about his childhood, but there was just too much detail for me to understand then, because it was so beyond my own experience. Later on there never seemed to be time to go back over some of those old things, and they faded and became confused.
Pieter and Katie never knew their paternal Grandfather at all, so I wished to get inside and reconstruct the person he was so that they can know him a little. I soon realized that religion played a big part in his life, although when I knew him he had no religious affiliation at all. To understand him I needed information on that part of his childhood.
So I had begun to work on this facet of his life when I walked into that used book store and reached for the first book that caught my eye. This book was between others, so I couldn’t read its title, but when I pulled it out and saw what it was, I knew why I had come there. It was The History of the Reformation in Germany and Switzerland, published in 1847 and written by J.H. Merle D’ Aubigne. I subsequently looked him up and found that he is a very well regarded source in religious history and fun to read because of the writing style of the time. This book has become a source that not only illuminated religion, but also many attitudes pertaining to the raising of children at that time.
I’ve also been able to learn something of the physical setting, for instance, the Elbe River where he played is about five miles across. Far different than the river I envisioned as a child, for all the river I knew was our little Middle Fork of the Yuba. Dad had an extensive knowledge of the rigging of sailing ships, those old Windjammers of an age when the bulk of cargo still moved under sail. He made a wonderful model ship for each of his sons, with all the stays and rigging of those great old Windjammers, and his love of tall ships has come to me as a sort of nostalgic undercurrent.
In my father’s telling of his early life there came to me a subliminal dread of the North Sea. From what I have researched so far, I now know why, for my father was close to it – very close. My grandfather was a Pilot Boat Captain and many times must have gone out to meet ships when he was not at all sure of coming back. Even today the transfer of a Pilot and Helmsman from pilot boat to an incoming ship in the turbulent mix of river flow and storm driven waves where the Elbe meets the North Sea is a hazardous undertaking.
In used book stores it truly is ask and you shall receive. Even if you don’t ask, the old books know, not just the words within but so many of the thoughts of those who have read before you.”
. . . Robert Mumm