Sometimes the best part of a Maine fall is wintering in. Sheltered from the storms, I grew up cherishing the time-battered book collection of ‘reader copies’ in the living room of “The Black Pearl,” our cottage built in the early 1920s on Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunk. What a place to hunker down and devote some time with old friends.
These are not pristine, uncracked volumes on our shelves tucked lovingly to the left of the crackling fireplace. Few of our books have their dust jackets, further reducing their monetary worth.
But look what’s in there. The Guest of Quesnay by Booth Tarkington, Northwest Passage by Kenneth Roberts, and The Vehement Flame by Margaret Deland, not to mention Deland’s daring The Awakening of Helena Richie. They’re lovely, beloved wrecks, all dog-eared pages, light foxing, yellowed pages. You name it, these books have been ‘devalued’ by human touch.
Or have they? As C.S. Lewis writes, “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”
In The Devlin Diary, Christi Phillips writes, “Although she was a logical, practical person, she believed that in books there existed a kind of magic. Between the aging covers on these shelves, contained in tiny, abstract black marks on sheets of paper, were voices from the past. Voices that reached into the future, into Claire’s own heart and mind, to tell her what they knew, what they’d learned, what they’d seen, what they’d felt. Wasn’t that magic?”
One of my favorites in The Black Pearl’s seashore library is The Dancing Floor, by John Buchan. When I was a child, I asked my mother, Elsie Headlee Sargent, what it was about. She said, “Ghosts.” I finally read it decades after losing her to cancer in 1976. She was with me on every page as I explored this wonderful ‘reader’ copy. I felt her hand turning every page.
Disintegration, mildew–who knew the gracious slow destruction of books could be so seductive? Everywhere I turn, I see texture is making an astonishing comeback. As I write this, I feel all the books in The Black Pearl trying to force their way past me to get to you. Mirthful Haven, Mary’s Neck, The Lively Lady. They have a life of their own. They are not quiet or retiring. In fact, they love to be touched and lingered over.