“Karen can often be found with her nose in a book” was a frequent comment in my childhood report cards. I smile now, remembering, because that is exactly how I am sitting now — with my nose buried in a book.
I live in a small city on the east coast of Canada, and I am well-known in several circles as a fervent Thoreauvian — one who is more than just a mere fan of Henry David Thoreau, but practically an evangelist. My Facebook is as decorated with Thoreau as the back of my car is with Thoreauvian bumper stickers. In short, people know.
So when a friend had come into his possession a copy of a Thoreau ex-libris volume dated 1882, he knew I’d be interested. “Interested” was putting it mildly. So he dropped it off at my husband’s computer shop, and my husband brought it in to me just as my online writing group settled in to weave with words.
I rest my nose against the edges of the pages, and there is that heavenly old book smell — of old tables, of ancient church choir rooms, and of vanilla. (My friend, a museum conservator, told me that the chemicals that break down in old paper are closely related to the chemical composition of vanilla. I believe her.)
The first thing I did was open it up to see the library markings. Some people loathe such things, but I am delighted by them. Like marginalia, these relics show the journey of a book. How many people had read it along the way to me? The fact that it is marked “St. John” and not “Saint John” tells me that it was probably withdrawn before 1950 or so. Where did it go after that? How did my friend find it?
I now see the Introduction was written by Henry’s friend (yes, we are on a first-name basis) H. G. O. Blake, and I feel the warmth of recognition.
Then I realize the book was published thirty years after the date of the first entry, and twenty years after Henry died. Suddenly this tome feels all the more precious — an intimate link between me and the man himself.
Last week another friend saw a hard-to-find two-volume set of Henry’s journals in a local used book store, and snatched them up for me, saying I could pick them up and pay him when convenient.
I am blessed and grateful for my friends, who not only know how much Thoreau books mean to me, but go out of their way to put them into my hands.
Henry would approve, I think.
This post was created as part of Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Challenge.
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