Everyone knows that collecting books isn’t the same as hoarding, right?
Collecting books is literary. It’s a luxury (after all, how many mansions and castles didn’t have a library room?) It’s professorial.
And, even though I’m a professor’s daughter and not a professor myself–not to mention a library user and advocate–I do love to keep me some books.
Especially vintage books.
Just a few.
Before you start picturing the worst-case scenario, let me clarify that we only have four bookshelves in our home.
Okay, fine. We have books in nearly every room (on tables, in magazine racks, in cabinets,) but only four official bookshelves. That’s what counts.
Four bookshelves is nothing for a bookworm/vintage lover/pack rat, all rolled into one.
Really, I’m small potatoes in the world of book hoarding–I mean–collecting.
I once knew a couple who brought back over 250 books from their honeymoon. He was doing his PhD (What did I tell you? Book collections are professorial.) and she just loved books. Their Victorian house was a maze of floor-to-nearly-ceiling shelves, lining the walls in every room, the hallways and even up the stairs. The top floor used to be fiction and the bottom floor was non-fiction. Even if I hadn’t been living in a village with a teeny, tiny library at the time, I would have loved their house. It came up for sale recently and I was tempted to buy it even though they and their books are long gone.
Their collection made that house a home.
It was a swoon-y, book lover’s house of the best kind.
Like that couple, our measly four bookshelves are also floor-to-ceiling and chock-a-block with books of all kinds. Mildly organized, as I like to be once or twice a year and clustered among other vintage objects that need a home. I also (ahem) collect a few vintage toys, which fit very well in my children’s book section.
I believe the staging experts calls this “giving the eye a place to land.”
Anyhoo, the annual book sale for the local symphony orchestra started this weekend and I have never been. I can’t imagine why, especially after all the fun I had there on Friday evening.
It was in a warehouse, which made it even more fun because of the whole forsaken, industrial vibe. Plus, there is bound to be tonnage of books in a WAREHOUSE!
When we got inside, there was a map which showed what types of books were in each section.
Maps = tonnage!
Sections = tonnage!
I consulted the map and tried not to squeal. There was a children’s section and music A, B, and C sections!
Three sub-sections = tonnage!
Practical Man and I mused about the definition of “Ephemera”.
Such a fun word, don’t you think?
Can’t remember what it means, of course. This is why I don’t do crossword puzzles, like my sister and Grandma Helen. I could Google the word, but I like to give my brain a chance to percolate for a few days.
It’s cheaper than Lumosity.com.
I hot-footed it to the music section, leaving a Practical Man in my book-hoarding dust. There were books about genres of music and books about the people who make music. But, I’m not as keen on reading about music as I am about playing it. So, I searched through lots of classical piano books–even a couple that looked just like the ones I scored in East Berlin back in 1985, before the Berlin Wall came down. (You had to spend all your money before you came back to the West and I spent it, even then, on super-economical, communist music books.)
On Friday evening, I looked for guitar books to help me with my new-ish relationship with Alice, my guitar.
It was a fun search but, yielded nothing interesting.
Then, I saw them: piles of vintage sheet music. There were boxes full of music with retro graphics and songs from the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald.
Swoon-y swoon, swoon!
There was music featuring my friend (well, in my imagination anyway), Julie Andrews. I’ll frame this score by my piano.
Some of the books just SMELLED vintage and special and the pages and illustrations dated them instantly to a by-gone era. Like, this Fireside Book of Folk Songs that is a large, hardcover book from 1947. There are songs to sing and play from South America and Scotland, Cowboy songs and Railroad songs, Hebrew songs and Chinese songs. There is even a part for spirituals and hymns. The arranger notes in the preface that “To avoid the monotony and vulgarity, no attempt has been made to persuade one style of accompaniment to suit varying styles of melody, and the square-toed “oom-pah” bass had been studiously avoided.”
Now, who wouldn’t want to take that book home with them for the bargain price of $1?
I found a couple of gifts for people who appreciate this kind of dusty treasure just as much as I do (I wish I could show them to you!) and Practical Man popped by every once in a while to carry my growing pile, because opening my car door and carrying my books is the kind of vintage gallantry that oozes out of his pores every old day of the week. He paid my $12 total at the end of our book sale, Friday night date, too.
He’s a keeper, that man.
As I rifled through the sheet music, I felt my heart begin to beat faster. Judging from the era of most of the music, I wondered if it had come from one person’s collection. And, I suddenly realized that something really special might be found within the stack. Something that was worth far more than the 10 cent price tag that was listed on the sign.
And then, I found it.
The song that would bring tears to my eyes in a warehouse full of bargain book tonnage:
It was sung in an episode of Downton Abbey in recent years, but, that’s not why I know the chorus by heart:
I’m in love with you.
Let me hear you whisper
that you love me too…”
Originally a hit in 1911, it became the biggest selling popular song on the market again, in the run up to WWII.
But more than this, it’s the song my grandparents played in their “cellar” rec room, amongst the ’50s furniture, when I was growing up.
It was the first song that they danced to at their 40th wedding anniversary, when I was 13 years old, my grandfather with tears brimming in his eyes.
It was my grandparents’ love song.
And, in part because of the symphony book sale, its ours too.
When I was 8, I wanted to grow up to be a nun.
I had done very thorough research on this career path and had decided that since nuns did a lot of singing in the hills, rode bicycles, and had picnics with lovable Austrian children, it was definitely the career for me.
But my dad said we weren’t Catholic (which was apparently against the rules if you wanted to be a nun — bummer!) and so I turned my career attention to something infinitely more sensible:
I would be a detective with a cool sports car and a bouncy ponytail.
This may have had something to do with spending many days after school pretending that I was one of Charlie’s Angels or intrepid girl detective, Nancy Drew. My aunt had loaned me her large Nancy Drew book collection which I read under the covers when I was supposed to be sleeping at night.
In defence of my disobedience, our parents put my sister and I to bed at 7:30.
Yep, 7:30. Until we were about 13.
This is why I need 12 hours of sleep to function, now. Which, of course, I can never get, even though I go to bed practically immediately after supper. But, I don’t drink coffee and I almost never get 12 hours of sleep.
So, excuse me if I seem a little dazed and confused.
Anyway, (YAWN), I used to I read with my face squished up against the pages of each Nancy Drew mystery, so I could try to see the words with my curtains closed and the covers over my head. Inevitably, I ended up needing glasses at the ripe old age of seven.
And, then I looked a lot more like Anne Sullivan than Nancy Drew, but that’s another story.
Here are some of the reasons (YAWN again) I wanted to be Nancy Drew when I grew up:
1) She had a blue, roadster convertible. I believe it matched her eyes. Obviously, every independent woman needs a car that accessorizes her best features.
2) She had “titian” hair. I knew what that meant because the author, Carolyn Keene, was kind enough to tell me that it was a vintage term that denoted reddish-blond. However, it was a word I had read, but never heard spoken. I remember wishing that my boring sandy-blond head would turn a lovely shade of “tie-teean”, with all my heart.
3) Nancy had a “kindly housekeeper” named Hannah Gruen. I always wanted a kindly housekeeper, like Hannah or, if she was unavailable, then Alice, from the Brady Bunch (who seemed, somehow, slightly scarier to timid me).
4) She had a boyfriend named Ned Nickerson. At 8 years old, I didn’t give two hoots about the boyfriend but, I was already a pushover for some good alliteration.
Now that I’m older and (gulp) wiser, I have lots of reasons I’m glad I’m not Nancy Drew:
1) I have a Fiat 500 with a squishy-back roof (um…I don’t know the official name for this so I came up with something technical). Way-y-y-y cuter and more interesting than a blue convertible. Maybe I’ll paint it turquoise to match my eyes (I’m pretty sure that if I lean right up against the car, my eyes look turquoise…yes, indeedy).
2) I now have brown, not “titian” or “tie-teean” hair. It might not be as interesting but I was able to pronounce it correctly, even before I heard the word spoken. Although, to be fair to “titian”, I also pronounced “nonchalant” as “non-kallent” until I was about 14 and heard somebody say it. I was an “A” student…honest.
3) I don’t have a kindly housekeeper but I have a kindly house husband. He won’t deign to respond if I call him Hannah and he definitely won’t wear a cute vintage apron, but that’s okay. His banana bread makes me forgive anything. There was never a peep about Hannah Gruen’s banana bread in all the Nancy Drew books. Kindly only goes so far, I guess. Poor Nancy.
4) Practical Man’s name doesn’t alliterate but it kind of rhymes with Darth Vader. Even I know that Star Wars trumps Nancy Drew. Every. Day. Of. The. Week.
Despite my Nancy Drew adoration, I actually only owned three books of my own so after I returned my aunt’s books to her, I was left with:
#1 – The Secret of the Old Clock
#14 – The Whispering Statue
#32 – The Scarlet Slipper Mystery
I practiced my detective skills–like developing spy codes and writing backwards–for hours, in case I was ever pressed to write a secret telegram or message. I can still write backwards almost as quickly as I can write forwards. Call me if you can think of any useful application for this skill or if you live, trapped, in an alternate world behind a mirror.
You can probably tell, what with my squishy-back-roofed car and my brown hair and my writing backwards, that I would be a good stand-in for Nancy Drew, if she ever wanted to take a weekend mini-break or a sabbatical (with or without her “keen” friends George and Bess). My mysteries could be:
#1 – The Tupperware Mystery
# 14 – The Case of the Backwoods Boler
# 32 – The Secret of the Frightened Fiat.
This weekend, I made progress on (re) building my Nancy Drew collection. I found #3 – the Bungalow Mystery, copyright 1960 at a garage sale for the bargain price of 50 cents.
I now have exactly 10 Nancy Drew books (not all sequential) in my desired 1959-1970 vintage editions. I saw a whole collection at an antique shop last weekend too, for $5/book, but that’s no good, when they’re just all sitting right there in front of me, now is it?
So, now, I’m all grown up (at least in theory) and I didn’t become a nun or a girl detective in the end. Honestly, who can get to bed by 7:30 (YAWN) and cope with any of those jobs? But, I still like to play the “what will I be when I grow up?” game.
I am a career counsellor, after all.
This week, I picture myself as the Bionic Woman. The Bionic Woman can bah-bah-bah-bah-bah run-in-slow-motion bah-bah-bah-bah-bah towards her next vintage treasure and beat everyone to the bargoons. How fun would that be?
But, I still love you, Nancy Drew. See you in the morning. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.