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 5 or 6, I decided to run away.
I can’t recall what unspeakable childhood injustice led to the moment when I flounced into my room and started packing my suitcase, but I do remember the dilemma:
how to fit everything in?
The little blue suitcase that I kept my doll’s clothes in wasn’t nearly big enough to hold the non-negotiable running away necessities such as:
- a flashlight to guard against bogey man,
- books and books and books to read while “on the road”,
- clean underpants (in case I was in an accident),
- penny bank (a plaster, brown-and-white pig approximately the size of my entire torso),
- and red-and-white checkered umbrella and raincoat ensemble (one can never be too stylish while running away),
let alone my TREASURES.
Red cowboy hat:
Mickey mouse record player:
and my Elizabeth doll:
I should have known right then and there, that I was never going to be a footloose and fancy-free kind of gal.
Too. Much. Stuff.
My new vintage suitcase evokes a 1974, running away kind of vibe too.
As in, Practical Man wants to run away when he sees the loud pattern.
I think he might have some kind of rare retinal disorder.
I love him anyway.
This suitcase is approximately the same size as my old running away version.
The inside is pristine, as if someone 5 or 6 years old couldn’t quite fit all her treasures in there either. As a result, it probably rested, only occasionally disturbed by a fleeting fancy of running away, until it was returned to under the bed.
I think it wants to be my new briefcase. It is not only (obviously) fabulous looking but eminently useful with both interior and exterior pockets and a handy umbrella slot. I can’t wait to take it out into the world and around the university, full of fun stationery supplies, snacks, a sunhat, music, assorted Sharpie markers, and life’s essentials: books and books and more books.
Some things never change.
My husband, Practical Man, often has to pry a book out of my snoring, sleeping fingers. I know fingers don’t usually snore but, I’m sure mine do.
It can’t be my adorable nose making all that racket.
Ever since I learned to read, it’s been the same story. Me and a book, in a dimly-lit room, my nose literally squished against the pages as I strained and squinted to see the words from my secret spot beneath the covers. I probably would have needed glasses at some point, but I may have hastened the process just a tad with my voracious attachment to 1970’s six-year-old’s I-Can-Read literature, like Pickles the Fire Cat, The Adventures of Jimmy Skunk and The Strange Disappearance of Arthur Cluck.
Not much has changed. Right now, I’m reading Penelope Crumb (funny and touching children’s chapter book), and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (a wonderful book for grown-ups and ’40s vintage fans).
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that my left eyeball hurts today. What with the habitual reading before sleep ‘n all.
It’s been hurting on and off (mostly on) when I move it around recklessly–as in reading, driving or checking out Practical Man’s form on a tractor–since February. Doctors are mystified but I don’t appear to be going blind, growing a brain tumour or developing Multiple Sclerosis.
In other words, it’s all good.
It just hurts. But I can still see, for which I am grateful, since I have needed glasses (badly) since the age of seven.
And Practical Man looks darn good on that orange Kubota. It might hurt my left eye to look, but I’d hate to miss that. So I’m grateful for the vision provided to me by glasses and contacts.
But, like many, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with them. After all, it was said that Boys Don’t Make Passes At Girls Who Wear Glasses.
At first, my affair with glasses was all good. In fact, it started out rather glamorously.
Behold my Great Grandma Hildegard’s snazzy, sparkly horn-rimmed glasses when she held me as a baby in 1969. They match her equally snazzy, sparkly earrings and brooch, of course. Don’t you just love how eyewear gives an instant snapshot of an era?
But after that, things–spectacle-wise–started taking a definite turn for the worse.
My parents bought me fancy (and no doubt, expensive) glasses that darkened automatically in the sun but this was the mid-70s, so they didn’t lighten back up very well. As a result, I had a vaguely Annie Sullivan look about me…even though with that haircut it was hard to look like anyone but a young Shaun Cassidy.
And then there was puberty (bad perm and worse glasses). Still look like Shaun Cassidy. Remember the phase where the arms of the glasses started at the bottom of the lenses and then swooped up over your ears? Apparently, I thought that was a good look (stop laughing).
In high school, I didn’t love the “four eyes” teasing or the fogging up the instant I set my foot on the first step of the bus to school when I was busy trying to plan how to nonchalantly plop myself down next to Graham Gorgeous, the hunky guy who had just moved back from New Zealand.
But, it was all good.
I had worked out that if I entered the bus backwards, my glasses didn’t fog up. It’s very challenging to bat your eyelashes at Graham Gorgeous when steam has obscured his view of your beautiful baby blues.
Yep, it’s a real mystery why I didn’t end up as Mrs. Graham Gorgeous.
So, I should have known better by the time high school graduation rolled around. Apparently blue eye shadow was my thing. Not that you would notice on account of the gigantic, red glasses and ’80s bangs.
Despite that, all these years later, I am thankful for glasses ‘cos I can’t find a thing without them.
For example, I can’t find my glasses without my glasses.
How cruel is that?
I haven’t found snazzy, sparkly vintage glasses like Great Grandma Hildegard’s, but I’ve started wearing this modern-day, reasonable facsimile:
And, every night, when Practical Man pries the book out of my snoring, sleeping fingers, I’m sure I am smiling because I finally know the truth:
Boys DO Make Passes at Girls Who Wear Glasses.
It’s all good.
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.