With the little mars of ownership and inscriptions, books can be transformed into something more than their content. They can symbolize a moment in time for the family member and the book. Here are a few examples from my library:
Saturday, November 14, 2020
Books as Family - Part II: Books as Family Artifacts.
1. A Wonder-Book Tanglewood Tails and Grandfathers Chair by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1883). The inscription in this book marks a moment in time for my grandmother then Dorothy Haynes, who received it as a Christmas gift in 1907 from her aunt Loucella. My grandmother would have been 12 years old at the time living in Sandusky, Ohio at the Ohio veterans home where her father was the chief surgeon. I try to imagine her Christmas morning where she opens the book around a Christmas tree with her for brothers and parents. This was part of a Riverside set of books that was popular at the time one of 13 volumes of Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s work.
2. Napoleon, Emil Ludwig 1926. The inscription on this book shows it it was given to my grandfather John Whitworth from “mother and father" on his 33rd birthday. He would’ve been working as the treasurer at the American Crayon Company at the time. Even though the inscription says it’s from mother and father his father had passed away 20 years earlier. With a gift, I wonder if his mother knew he was interested in Napoleon or took a chance and thought he might like it.
3. How to Win friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie, 1936. One of the best selling books of all time this would’ve been in my grandfathers library. The reason I noted it that my mother, who would have been about three at the time, scribbled inside the front cover. I’m wondering what my grandfather would’ve thought when he found those scribbles perhaps he secretly treasured them as a sign of his daughters future creativity.
3. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, James George Frazer (1951). This was a book from my mother's college days at Wooster College when she was intending to major in Anthropology. Inside on the free end paper is a custom-made book plate with her maiden name and a black and white wood carving of the family home at 621 Wayne St. in Sandusky, Ohio. This is a seminal work on the study of religion and myth and I try to imagine her reading this in the college library.
4. The Opposing Self, Lionel Trilling 1959. This is a book of essays in criticism about the romantic image of the self in literature. The book reflected a change in my mothers intellectual interest after she transferred from Wooster to Michigan State and changed her major to English literature. She had graduated and married my father. What makes this book an interesting artifact is the moment in time where she used it to make a list of things to do in her day. One was to call a hairstylist Mrs. Call and the other was to return a maternity booklet to someone named Catherine. This would have been soon after my mother had given birth to my older sister Ann.
5. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, Ludwig Von Mises (1966). This was one of my fathers books and marked with a pre-printed address label on the free end paper. This is not a light read but an 883-page treatise by a an Austrian economist. I’m trying to imagine my father having a deep intellectual life with an economic book when I was five years old and my sister was seven while he was working as a salesman for metals foundery in Sandusky Ohio. One small coincidence with this book is that in his 80s, he pointed out the book on his shelf and told me that he kept a small stash of cash maybe $300 in its pages and that I should remember that if something ever happened to him. When he died and I was packing up his apartment, I remembered to look for the cash before putting in the packing box. There was a comforting coincidence about the idea of finding hidden money in a treatise on economics.