There’s this look of complete awe that settles on people’s faces as they walk through the door of our rare book room. It’s huge, and has the most incredible books lining the shelves on all three sides of the room. They date as far back as the seventeen hundreds, and it’s truly a sight to behold, so I understand the light in our customer’s eyes.
I work, currently, as a bookseller in a secondhand bookshop near the wonderful city of Bristol. We’ve recently opened a antique and rare books room. I have the pleasure of working in this room three out of my five working days.
It’s peaceful and serene and allows me the time to ponder all manners of thought. Including the respect and adoration that we readers reserve for antique books.
Is it the stories that we allow ourselves to dream up from the previous owners’ names scribbled on delicate, tanned pages? Is it that infamous old book smell that overwhelms you when you hold the pages close to your nose? (Which, to be perfectly honest, has never really tickled my fancy, but that perhaps comes from years of working around incredibly dated books).
After much thought on the subject, I have come to a conclusion.
I think that the wonder we feel for these books is inspired by the incredible survival and durability of these books. They’re passed down through families, friends, generations, and through each different reader the books get thicker, with the life that they became a part of.
Some of the books in our rare books room have survived both world wars. Some of them have come from far and wide countries. Some of them have come from centuries before our own. There’s something so impressive about that.
Brilliantly, there’s no age limit to the interest in aged books. Just last week, I overheard a four year old boy tell his little brother, “when I’m an adult, I’m going to come in here everyday”. Which was just the sweetest thing, like only adults were allowed in rooms like this one. Arguably, they then spent half an hour playing hide and seek under the tables in the middle of the room – but that’s besides the point.
It’s incredible, and grounding, to contemplate the longevity and importance of books like these. Makes me feel a little mortal. But nonetheless, pleased to be a part of it.
What do you think? What makes you love old books?