Monday, November 2, 2015

Discovering Treasures in the Stacks

by Karen Laird
Recently I received an invitation from, one of the world’s premier online auction marketplace sites for valuable collections, art, and antiquities.  They wondered if I would be interested in perusing their literary stacks and possibly writing an article about the value of literature and the printed word, especially items of age.
After giving it some thought, I knew the possibility of pursuing this project appealed to me on several levels.  First and foremost, I come from a family of avid readers, a family where the printed word holds great value.  Books have been honored and passed down through our family from parent to child, from grandparent to grandchild and even from aunt to treasured niece or nephew over the years.  Some of my earliest memories are of the time spent with an elderly aunt, many an afternoon after school, curled up on the couch next to her, as she read to me from the books of her childhood that her mother had passed on to her.  My Great Aunt Genevieve and her mother were both high school teachers, with Aunt “Gen” having a special love of literature.  My mother’s mother was also a school teacher in a one-room school room during the early years of the 1900’s.  When we went to visit her, they didn’t have a TV, but we spent the evening sitting on the floor around her knee as she read short stories and poems to us from James Whitcomb Riley, and other writers popular during the early 1900’s.  We were mesmerized, the stories were so different than the “Dick and Jane” we were exposed to at school. Imagine my surprise and great joy when my father and mother presented me with the books from my Aunt Gen’s library and several of the books that had come down from my grandmother and that she had given to me over the years as a child.  Several of the older school books had teacher’s notes in them from my great-great aunt, there were titles I had not read since I was a child, as they were out of print. 
I took the time to go through’s stacks and look for some of these very titles and see if these treasures might be hidden amongst the many gems they have gathered at their site.  Listed below are a few of my finds, as well as a few finds that I think any reader who loves the older classic books of the 1800’s and early 1900’s would love to read and add to their personal library.

shakespeare Though not the same “scholar’s edition” that my aunts taught out of at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s, every serious reader needs a complete collection of Shakespeare.  I started reading Shakespeare to my children early.  I took The Princess Bride seriously and found “the good parts” and we read those together.  What six or seven-year-old boy doesn’t like the sound of “double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and caldron bubble.”?    By high school, they had heard and read enough Shakespeare not to be afraid of him.   We still enjoy a little Shakespeare, he’s good for the soul (and the ear).,-william.-the-chisw-338-c-5204285bdf 

MOBY DICK by Jim Melville
moby dick Okay, I never quite made it through this tomb, but it was in my Aunt’s stack.  At age fifty-eight, my dear husband, Fred, finally marked Moby Dick off his bucket list of books to read (once) before he dies.  Though a classic and full of much analogy and metaphor.  This story is a true gothic novel that gives War and Peace a run for it’s money in the fortitude it takes to read solo.,-65-c-f05413bb37

poe SELECTED TALES OF MYSTERY by Edgar Allan Poe Tales to read in the light of day.  Even though this is a more recent copy, the horror and terror that Poe manages to transmit to the written page transcends time.  This is a book that will never grow old with the reading.,-col-82-c-7694dbe82c 

collectionA Collection of Children’s Literature This collection of books from an estate library reminded me very much of the library that came packed in those china boxes many years ago.  They were a mismatched collection of authors and styles that would appeal to many boys and girls longings for a book to read.  This was especially true for those children who lived in an isolated area where books were not readily available, and libraries were those places you read about in cities and rich peoples’ homes.  My Aunt Gen’s library came out west with her in a box on the train from back east to New Mexico where she came to teach high school.  She was limited in what she could bring by what could fit in her box of books, so her choices were carefully made.  A selection, such as this would have fit in one or two boxes, much like she would have brought with her. Arabian Nights, Longfellow Poems, A Tale of Two Cities, Kidnapped, Black Beauty, and more 

riley James Whitcomb Riley was the folk poet and story-teller of the turn of the century.  His stories were much loved by Americans as they reflected their attitudes about life.  Many were wistful, but many were full of their love of God and Country.  
kiplingI came across a complete set of his works several years ago and was able to present it to my mother.  It was from his books, and prints in magazines that my grandmother would read us his stories and poems when we were growing up.  Our favorite reading was one about the great bear hunt, as told by two little boys.  The further along the story got, the bigger the bear and the story became.  Over the years, it became a family tradition that grandmother recite it at family gatherings.  I think that her telling became bigger and larger with the years, also, but we all loved to sit and listen to the yarn grow. 
RUDYARD KIPLING The first “story without pictures” that I read to my children was Rudyard Kipling’s Riki Tiki Tavi.  They had seen the cartoon video a few weeks before and when I opened the book, they laid back, closed their eyes, and watched the story on the backs of their eyelids while I read it to them.  It took two or three nights to read the whole story because they kept falling asleep.  After that, we read all the Just So Stories Kipling wrote for children and in later years tackled The Jungle Book.,-rudyard-1865-1936-.-the-pocket-kipling.-403-c-ac54c36802 

I love an old book.  There is nothing like the feel of the pages as they turn beneath my fingers.  There is nothing like the smell of the old, moldering pages wafting up and taking me to places unknown.  Books have always been my friends.  They have swept me across the continents and through the ages.  Under their spells, I have been a pauper and a princess.  I have felt the ecstasy of being anyone I dreamed I wanted to be.  They brought me my best dreams and left me fighting up out of my worst nightmares.  
Thousands and thousands of authors through the ages have spilled their heart’s blood on the pages of books in a hope that their dreams and tales would be read and shared for ages to come.  Thanks to the written word, we have the gift of being able to read and re-read those words of ages past and to share them on with future generations.  I am so thankful that my family has shared their love of the written word and passed this love down through our generations like a cherished jewel. In this day of electronic quick and easy, there is still nothing as long lasting as the written word.  
This fact was poignantly brought to a point by our daughter and her carrying on of the family tradition as she works on the final chapters of her Ph.D. in linguistics and psychology in Ancient Near-Mid-Eastern Languages.  She has had the privilege of studying and deciphering the puzzle of the written word from thousands of years ago.  Our most treasured discussions are about her work and the puzzling of languages through the ages.  Her greatest joy is handling and translating these ancient words from the sands of time. 
I know that has far more than these few treasure amongst their stacks.  After visiting with Ryan, one of their staff, I feel that there is always someone there that will assist me in locating what I am looking for.  I wish I had known about places like this when I was looking for that special book set for my mother or dad in years past.  Having a quality auction marketplace at your fingertips when looking for that special book would have made the looking easier and the hope of finding a quality piece at a reasonable price even better.  
Be it a new heirloom of a child’s story to be passed down with time, or a treasured book someone speaks of with a sigh, books are still our favorite gifts to give and receive.  A precious volume of great value to the gift giver and the recipient is one that will always find a special place on a library or bookcase shelf in any bookworm’s home.