When I asked people to share with me their reasons for collecting books one of the most common can be described in two words—time travel. Through their book collections people want to have the experience of being in another time—whether that time is just a few years ago or centuries past. Surely this is one reason so many of us collect children’s books, and especially the favorites of our own childhood. Who among us would not like to spend a few hours once in a while back in the happy days of our youth? And even if those days weren’t so happy, books often offered us an escape. One collector wrote to me:
I collect copies of Little Women. It has been and will always be special to me. One of the first books I read as a child and one of the most treasured experiences watching the OLD film version with my grandmother.
I think that’s a common feeling among collectors—that their collecting can return them to the time of a treasured memory. But time travel among book collectors works in other ways as well. Another collector wrote to me, “I feel like it’s a kind of time travel–to read a first edition and think that other people fifty or a hundred or however many years ago held this or a similar book in their hands and enjoyed it, too.” This is a motivation that I explore in The Bookman’s Tale and also in my new novel-in-progress, First Impressions. Here, for instance, is an encounter that Sophie Collingwood, the protagonist of First Impressions, has with a rare book:
Sophie had never held a first edition of Pride and Prejudice. She had never had the opportunity to run her fingers over those spectacular words as they had appeared in print for the very first time. Somehow seeing them here in this volume from 1813 brought home to Sophie, in a way even more powerful than seeing the manuscripts in the British Library had, that Jane Austen had actually written these words. They had not simply appeared out of the ether. Sometimes, Sophie thought, sentences like that become so famous that we cannot conceive a time when they did not exist. We can remember our own first encounters with those words, but that mankind should have had a first encounter with them seems almost impossible. But mankind did have a first encounter with Sophie’s favorite sentence in all of literature, and she now held that first encounter in her hand.
So, whether we are traveling to a time in our own past or to a time long before our own lives or those of our grandparents, books can facilitate that mental and emotional jump. And because it’s so easy to “get lost in a book,” that inhabiting of another time can last for hours at a time and grip our minds in a way that, perhaps, a collection of china or stamps or baseball card might not do.
Please continue to let me know about your own collections and why you collect books as I will be exploring the topic in my next several posts. But now, take down a book from your shelves and do a little time traveling!