Even more stories . . .

 Used Books that Found Me

Used Books that Found Me

I love reading people’s stories of how used books magically found them.

Got one yourself?  Send it and I’ll add it to the collection!

First, one from Rochelle Bell.

“One of my favorite authors is Sylvia Boorstein, a Buddhist teacher and a faithful Jew. One day I decided to get the rest of the books she has written. I realized she was aging and probably would not be writing very much longer. I went to Amazon.com and began looking for her work. There were several, and I quickly hit the “buy” button and was done with it.

A few days later the books came and I realized I’d been too quick on the button. One of the books was written by another author and only the forward was written by Sylvia.

My partner, Rod grabbed that book titled “How to be Sick” – A Buddhist-inspired guide for the chronically ill and their caregivers. Rod has been caring for his brother as of late, and he loves the book and the wisdom it imparts.

So, what seemed like a mistake for me turned into a gift for Rod.”

*   *  *

And now from her partner, Rod Bondurant.

An old National Geographic started it.

“I don’t recall the name….do you, Mabel?” Mabel shook her head and the Delhi librarian turned her steely gaze on me.  I just wanted a book, and I was being interrogated in the silent old library in upstate New York where old school New England culture was still present.

I really didn’t want to go into it all but I half-heartedly launched into the story of my parents living there, and now my reclusive brother living in their house.

No stranger was just going to walk in and get a book here.  I decided to get to the point.  “I’m looking for a copy of Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle.  Two pair of eyes were suddenly wide and fixed on me. Their thrill showed: This man wants a real book! He knows who Darwin is!  A flurry of eager activity located the book 200 miles away.  I had to explain more about how I didn’t expect to be around long enough to receive the copy.  I had returned to Delhi to help my brother deal with serious cancer and I was hoping to go home soon.

To salvage my library visit and honor the staff’s enthusiasm, I requested direction to the Travel section.  I took in the bleak half-filled shelf……A few old Fodor’s, a picture book or two, a few musty local history anthologies, and a shabby gray copy of The Peninsula by Louise Dickinson Rich.  A vaguely familiar name.

She was one of my mother’s favorite authors.  Mother always had dreams of “going back to the land”.  She would have been a good hippie.  We actually did vagabond around in a converted VW bus during my high school summers.

Louise Rich had chronicled her own depression-era adventure in the Maine woods where she and her husband operated a fishing lodge.  The difficulties and making do involved in eking out an existence in the 1930’s was well described in We Took To The Woods.  Louise was also something of a cultural anthropologist and studied and delightfully recorded the values and workings of small town life.  The memory of that book reminded me that my previous interrogation was a precious remnant of the peculiar intimacy of small towns.

I grabbed The Peninsula.  It had slumbered on the shelf. The old fashioned card with checkout dates showed it had been checked out only about once a year since 1963. I suspect one of the entries was my mother’s.  The Peninsula kept me spellbound.  Louise was now leading a different and solitary life in the early ‘50’s on the Maine coast.  She saw that “progress” was coming; the world she was surrounded with was going to disappear and she wanted to chronicle it.  She also shared her personal opening to the special natural beauty and heartwarming culture she found.

I haven’t yet read Darwin’s account about a now lost South American tribe, but the search had brought me the gift of another story closer to home.”

More Stories of Used Books Finding You!

book stack 2“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

Used Book Magic

Do you believe there’s magic in used books?   I’ve had incredible experiences calling books to me over the years.  Today was yet another.  I’ll share some of my favorite book magic stories.  If you have some of your own, send them and I’ll post them!

I’d always regretted giving away the Navajo Language book that Dick and I studied on the Reservation in Arizona in the 1970’s. We thought our hospital replacements would benefit from having it, but I realized too late I’d given away an irreplaceable treasure of Navajo phrases and vocabulary.  Fast forward five years to the basement of Cody’s Bookstore on Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley.  I was looking over a table of used children’s books when my eye was caught by a red book perched atop  a stack of children’s picture books.  As my hand reached for it, I knew what it was:  Navajo Made Easier by Irvy Goossen.

Then there’s the book from my childhood I wanted to read to my daughters, but couldn’t remember the title – only that it was of a young girl who collected butterflies in the woods.  I’d given up, when one day, while checking out books at the Grass Valley Children’s Library, an elderly woman set a stack of old books on the counter to donate.   Impulsively, I reached around her and turned the bindings  to see the titles, and there it was:  Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Straton-Porter.  I had to fight the librarian for it (she collected rare old books), but a donation to the library made it mine.

Some books have been nearly thrust into my hands.  I’d just returned from my youngest sister’s memorial service in Canada and was headed toward a much-needed latte, when I made an unusual  right turn and ended up in Tome’s Books and Sierra Roasters in Grass Valley. With mug in hand, I wandered the stacks until I found a chair in a dark corner.  Mindlessly, I reached up and pulled out a paperback:  Life on the Other Side by Sylvia Browne. It was as if my sister wanted me to know…..

So today I was again at Tomes (my favorite used book store). As I waited to see what books Eric would buy from me (for credit of course), my hand reached out for an orange workbook in the Reference Section.  Book in a Month by Victoria Schmidt.  Voila!  Exactly what I needed to get my novel moving along.  It’s one thing to have a story in your head and quite another to be organized enough to move through all the steps of crafting a compelling novel.   I have thirty days to finish my first draft, starting February 1st.  Be sure and ask me how it’s going!