So, on Monday I went to the library and picked up my holds, as promised. You might guess that I sat down with one of them immediately after getting home – the Gunnar’s Daughter by Sigrid Undset. I talked a little bit before in my Calendar post how excited I was to start her novel right away. What I was equally as excited to behold, came as a bit of a surprise. The edition of Gunnar’s Daughter that arrived to me from University of Alberta was published all the way back in 1938. I was ecstatic!
The hardback is on a smallish side with textile, plain red covers. Besides being faded from the sun, the spine has some very well preserved gilding, bearing the title, the author’s name and the publisher’s name – Cassell. According to Wiki, Cassell was established in the mid-19th century in Britain and existed up to 1998, when it was bought out by Orion Publishing Group. Come to think of it, I did see quite a few Cassell books over my reading career, most of them having pleasant textured jackets and neat capitalized lettering. This particular title was “printed in Great Britain by Jarrod & Sons, Limited, Norwich”, which I find pretty cool, considering that someone handled this book by hand seventy-five years ago, put it amongst identical copies, and shipped it across the Atlantic. How many faces has this book seen? How many fingertips ran across its pages? Where are its “brothers” now and how many of them are still caressed by readers around the world? Has it soaked up the smell of the open sea or the fire by somebody’s comfy reading chair? Has it kept company to somebody in their happiness or soothed them in their sorrow? So many secrets an old book can tell, if only it can share it. But books are great keepers of secrets.
The pages of Gunnar’s Daughter are naturally yellowed, but surprisingly sturdy. Not one of them is bent or creased, or fraying. They are actually made of a very heavy paper, the kind I don’t see in modern books at all. When I flip them, I have to remind myself not to try to separate stuck pages, because indeed there is only one pressed between my fingers. It feels unusual. There are no illustrations, but each chapter number is framed in an ornate rectangle. Each page has plenty of marginal space, making the fair-sized font a breeze to read. And then, there is the smell… The divine smell of old, wise book. It is the smell of hundreds of emotions preserved between the pages, like pressed flowers – all the emotions that spilled from readers’ hearts as they read the story. I love bringing the open book close to my face and deeply inhale, feeling in that instant connected to hundreds of like-minded people.
I love old books, as you might guess by now. It was about a week ago that I went to a Wee Book Inn on Whyte Avenue, here in Edmonton. It was the first time for me visiting this particular location, so I was pleasantly surprised that it was much bigger than the downtown one, especially since it had a second floor. There, beside the regular fiction selection, they had two bookshelves full of antique books. There was an impressive collection of old, classic children’s stories, all bound in colorful hard covers circa 1950’s and some fascinating adventure tales that were so popular in the first half of the 20th century. I have to confess falling in love with one particular beauty that was on display – a gorgeous green cover with detailed embossed illustration of two divers engaged in battle. The books was called The Treasure of the Sacred Lake, written by Percy F. Westerman and published in the early 1920’s. For a long while I found myself stuck in front of the bookcase, taking the novel down, absorbing its amazing being, replacing it back on the shelf, only to repeat the process over and over again. The problem was a $50 price tag and I couldn’t bring myself to spend so much on a book the contents of which I had to take on a gamble. In the end I sighed a long sigh and went home empty-handed (well, I did get one other book, but it was new and I will introduce it some other time). I promised myself to research some Westerman adventure novels and maybe look for them on eBay. It doesn’t look like these books see the light very often nowadays, but since they deal with my most favorite subject of treasure-seeking and gun-fighting, I find it to be my duty to make them known to the public once again.
O pretty books of old, you heart-breakers you!