Forty-nine years ago today, I married my best friend. He and I were, and still are, kindred spirits. Both of us felt that kinship when we first met, but we also had proof sitting on our respective book shelves. Each of us owned a very old book from the same set of books….one on his shelf and a matching volume on mine. His was Pride and Prejudice (Reader, need I say more?), and mine was Silas Marner. For that reason, and of course many others, we decided WE were meant to be.
Dusting my bookshelves today, I decided to share a photo of some of the oldest books on my shelf. These are books that have survived numerous purges and were dutifully boxed and moved with us from house to house. I’ve always thought I would reread them, but haven’t done so yet, except for My Antonia. Still, something to look forward to.
What are some of the oldest books on your shelf?
To celebrate Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s 210th birthday today, I want to share with you a post I wrote and originally published on this blog on February 27, 2008.
born February 27, 1807
Teaching young people how to read is one thing, but sparking a passion for reading is another. As a teacher, I’m highly trained in how to teach children to read, but after 22 years of teaching, I think it’s my own passion for reading that is the most powerful tool I have as I try to ignite that spark in my students. I’ve wondered exactly where my passion came from, and I’ve been able to identify a couple of things that certainly fueled the flames. One was being lovingly read to by my parents. The other was a book experience I had when I was seven or eight years old.
My father, a university professor, asked me to go with him to visit an older, retired professor in town. Dad prepared me on the drive over to this man’s house, letting me know that he was an unusual person, old and always very grumpy with people, sort of a “hermit,” he said. What he didn’t tell me was that the man was a book person extraordinaire.
I don’t think I could ever adequately describe what this man’s house was like. I walked in the front door, my father introduced us, then I looked around. I had never seen so many books in all my life. Bookshelves were everywhere and overflowing with books. Books were piled up everywhere…and I mean everywhere! The living room was completely full of books, so there was no place to sit down. The kitchen was piled high with books — the stovetop and a small space next to the sink were the only places without piles of books. The chairs and table were piled high. There were stacks of books in the bathroom, towers of books in the bedroom. Books were piled high along the hallway. Then, he took us downstairs into his basement, which was also filled with books, except that those books were on rows and rows of bookshelves, just like in a library.
Old Professor Poulson must have recognized me as a fellow book person, even though I was only eight and he was over eighty, because he very proudly showed me his entire collection, was gentle and kind to me, and before I left he gave me a book. That book has always been my most treasured book. It was a very old, lovely volume of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poems, called Voices of the Night. I still read it and treasure it.
I remember spending hours and hours reading those poems and looking at the beautiful art “plates.” I memorized his poem, “The Wreck of the Hersperus,” which fascinated me, and I can still recite it today. And when my father passed away, it was a stanza from Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life” that I chose to use during my remarks at his memorial service:
“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.”
Looking back, I think my Dad knew exactly what he was doing by showing me this striking example of a person’s passion for reading. It had a tremendous impact on me at a very young age! So, in searching through memories to answer the question of where my passion for reading came from, I realize that, first, my dad and mom taught me to read … and then, in so many different ways, they taught me to love reading, passionately.
Thanks to Adam @roofbeamreader, I reread Little Women in January for his Classic Book-a-Month challenge 2017. I loved this book when I first read it as a young girl. I am the only girl in my family, with three terrific brothers, but I longed to have sisters. The four March sisters became my surrogate sisters.
A few years ago, I read Louisa May Alcott‘s first book, Flower Fables. I liked it, and loved her writing, but was put off by the heavy moralizing and “teaching of lessons.” I understood that that style of writing was very common in those days and made complete sense in lieu of her background, as well. But she was a young developing author in that first book and by the time she wrote Little Women, she had much more life experience as well as writing experience. Although there was still the “teaching of moral lessons” inbedded in the storytelling, she did not come across as being nearly as didactic as she had in the Flower Fables. Indeed, I was struck this time by her compassion and understanding of human nature. She is a supreme writer and a wonderful storyteller, in my estimation. Her story of the March sisters is timeless despite being set in a specific period of time.
I chuckled and I cried, again, as I read this lovely book. I ruminated on how much it had impacted my life, how much of Jo I identified with and absorbed at a young age, because it was Jo who captured my heart and imagination even though I loved the other sisters, too.
I’m so glad I reread this classic novel this month! (Thank you, Adam!) It would be a lovely project to read all her books — all the ones I didn’t read when I was growing up and rereading all the ones I did!
I have more than books on my bookshelves! This is one of my favorite little treasures that adorn my shelves.
Early last year I re-read one of my favorite books, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. It was delightful to revisit this old favorite, and I discovered that the landscapes of Grahame’s timeless story fit very well with the landscapes I see around me here in Oregon. I have some favorite spots that I pass by every day, and I’m sure they are inhabited by Mole and Ratty, Mr. Toad, and Badger. It keeps this beloved book close to my heart on a daily basis.
This morning I celebrate the first day of Spring by once again thinking of that delightful book which starts out with Mole doing some Spring cleaning. I’m sure that many of you, especially my friends enduring that endless East Coast winter this year, are also feeling that ‘spirit of divine discontent and longing’ on this first day of Spring. May your day be filled with wonderful stories, beautiful blossoms, perhaps some spring cleaning, and respite from those Winter storms! Happy Spring, friends!
The mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was going in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.
Now that I’m retired, summer reading has taken on a whole new meaning for me. For one thing, my summer is longer with much more time for sitting on the porch and reading. Yay! I don’t have to spend most of June finishing teaching units, grading papers, and writing report cards. I don’t have to take classes in July to update my teaching certificate. And I don’t have to spend days and weeks in August preparing my classroom and going to district teacher meetings. Although I miss my kiddos, I am happy now that I can just enjoy reading on my front porch! And doesn’t that sounds heavenly?!
It was early in 1968, having just returned from a year abroad as an exchange student, when I read a reprint of an article by W.H. Auden from The New York Times. It was a review of a series of books by an English author, J.R.R. Tolkien. They sounded so good, I quickly went out and bought all 4 books: The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Those delightful hours spent reading those books set the standard for my summer reading. Total immersion into a different world… Traveling there and back again without having to leave my comfortable summer reading spot… Complete enjoyment of beautiful writing and wonderful creativity… I would love to recapture some of those delightful reading moments from long ago!
So… I am reading and enjoying, once again, The Hobbit.
By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green…