Even Before the Story Begins
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A friend of mine owns an estate sale business and every month I get to work a sale or two with him. Normally what this means is I sit behind the cash table and watch other people buy the things I missed or was hoping would still be there later in the day. But every once in a while, I go home with treasures. And more often than not, they’re books. (Big surprise.)
I didn’t realise it until this last sale, but one of the great things about estate sale books is that it’s not uncommon to find an inscription in them. And sometimes a mediocre book can suddenly look interesting when there’s a good inscription that sets the book in the context of life.
How often do we flip to page one of chapter one in a book and start reading, ignoring all the previous pages? Sometimes you can read the book’s own “story” in those earlier pages.
Day two of the sale, I spotted this slim gem on the shelf and tried to tell myself it was too cute for my taste. The illustrations, though interesting, weren’t me. But then, I opened the cover and saw: “…for times remembered…” 1967. And suddenly, I was curious about this little book of love quotes and its cartoonish couple.
Now this copy of Paradise Lost, I found a while back.
As it’s a classic, and obviously printed long ago, I would’ve gotten it anyway — but its inscription is noteworthy:
Presented to Miss Lizzie Nolan for excelling her classmates in spelling.
March 4, 1898
Did Lizzy win a spelling bee? What words was she particularly proud of spelling correctly? Did she love poetry? Milton? The creation story? Why did Ms. Griffith gift her this particular book?
I love old illustrations, so couldn’t pass up this book of fairy tales and its drawings. Inside it’s simply inscribed: To Deanna from Grandma B—- Dec. 25, 1944. That date made me pause. Imagine Christmas in the midst of World War II and you unwrap a book of fairy tales from your grandma. In some ways a book of fairy tales seems an apt gift to a child in wartime, as such tales are often darker than you’d expect children’s stories to be — yes they’re fantastical, but they also acknowledge that life is difficult.
Speaking of wartime…
When I opened this book, the title page included a “produced under wartime conditions” tag, which I hadn’t previously heard of. Apparently publishers had to use certain kinds of paper to reduce costs. Made me realise just how much a world at war would affect every aspect of life. And then, to appreciate that people still thought it important to print books — and even children’s mystery books! I hadn’t even known that Carolyn Keene wrote mysteries besides Nancy Drew, but apparently there were the Dana Girl Mysteries, as well. I look forward to reading this and learning more about the Dana girls.