Why I Love Old Books

Caveat Lector

One of the reasons I love old books is discovering the long-forgotten things that someone tucked away in their pages for safe keeping. No matter how old we become, there remains a feeling of unearthed treasure when you discover such relics. Call it lexical serendipity.

That’s why I enjoy old books with writing in them. Sometimes the thoughts that a person scribbled in the margin are a window into a stranger’s reaction to the text; sometimes an unannotated underlining leaves you guessing what the words meant to them. Always, notes in old books make reading a communal affair. No longer is it just me and my page, there is now a third party on the line. Or, perhaps I’m the one intruding on their conversation.

Probably the best inscription in any of my old books is the personal typed note from a son to his father, taped into the cover of my copy of Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians:


Immediately, there is real kinship with Clyde through our common esteem for the great Reformer, and for his continent-shaking Doctrine.

Furthermore, the fact that the typed card is simply corrected by hand and pasted in without further revision is a small glimpse into an age before spell-check, before home-printers, and before such errors necessitated scrapping the note and starting again. The grave warning to not let anyone get away with this book conjures images of a masked book-bandito making off with copies of Calvin and Knox, even while the necessity of those words also reminds us of the scarcity of such works in an age before it took 0.004 seconds to download Luther’s Commentaries from any number of public domain websites. With that scarcity most likely came a much greater sense of value. I’d wager anything those old codices were read more often than their digital descendants. 

Yet the note is also unsettling.

Why the urgency of his request to his Father–I want you to read it. 

What untold stories lie behind that line?

Did the Father finish it before August 10, 1948?

What came of the revival at Bradshaw?

Our stories taped in books, still being told long after we’ve forgotten them.

Simple things to ponder on a breezy day, a day before Thanksgiving spent with loved ones.