My husband doesn’t read fiction. He prefers rock biographies or physics tomes or obscure and ancient books about Christianity. He’s been working on The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins for months, written by Burnett Hillman Streeter in 1924. (Our copy is a reprint by Macmillan from 1953.) A couple of weeks ago, within the text, my spouse came across a book that Streeter contributed to and edited, The Spirit: God and His Relation To Man. Also published by Macmillan, this collection of essays was published in 1920. My husband found it on Amazon, but the private seller wanted almost forty dollars. Then he located it on ABE for five bucks. Shipping was another four, and it arrived on Friday. The binding is a faded yellow, but the front and back are a lovely blue, except for an inch from the top, again a faded hue; it must have sat in a bookshelf that received afternoon sun. Being my husband has the day off, we spent a lazy morning in the living room. He studied his new book, while I edited a short story. He read aloud a few bits here and there, then asked if I could pause to read a few paragraphs. By this time I had stopped revising, instead removing all the extra spaces at the end of paragraphs, easier to interrupt that, as I knew he had plenty to share.
I found the content fascinating. But just as intriguing was the book itself; ninety-two years old and in very good shape, except for the discolored binding. The printing jumped out at me, as if I could see the letters’ indentations on the pages. I might publish ebooks, but I adore print books, old and new. Another of my husband’s recent reads is How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life by John Fahey. A paperback from 2000, the gorgeous cover is textured (which you can see on the link), and as my husband has prodded me to read a little, also very good on the inside. I think it will be my next lunchtime read.
I will get to The Spirit eventually, but probably not at the noon hour. (I’d be terrified of getting cream cheese on it!) It’s the sort of book best digested while sitting on the sofa, admiring the message as well as how those words were laid onto the pages. I would also ponder those who offered their insights. We couldn’t find any information about Cyril W. Emmet other than he had been a vicar and the examining chaplain to the Bishop of Oxford. Burnett Streeter has a brief Wikipedia write-up, as does Lily Dougall. Our copy of The Spirit is from a Kentucky seminary, now will float around our house until we pass on. I hope our kids won’t chuck it out; by then it will be well over a century old.
With all my recent considerations about legacies and such, just holding a book so ancient makes me shiver. I don’t want these books lost. Yes, they’ll end up on shelves, just like Big Day Coming, that Yo La Tengo bio I’ve been waxing about. My husband just put it away, or was hoping to find space for it. We reduced our collections when we moved back here five years ago, but print books have a way of muscling back into the house. Ebooks are easy to store, ninety-two-year-old religious tomes not so much.
But we will find space for all these books, once we are done with them, and I hope my kids will do the same. They might never read them, and maybe my descendents won’t ever open one of my novels. But like me, Cyril Emmet and Burnett Streeter and Lily Dougall wrote their hearts, which became words printed onto pages. Which became a book that languished in the Kentucky sun, but remains to this day. Someday printed books may not exist, but I balance that with the knowledge that they touched my soul, and maybe I can carry those messages within my writing. Not sure how I’ll squeeze musician John Fahey’s ruminations into the works, but if I can, you better believe I will.