Recently, I’ve discovered a new emotional dimension to my book collecting by way of a rather strong attachment to one particular old tome, shown here. It’s a first edition of The Life & Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky published in 1906. Though it cost just £2.50, I consider it priceless. I’ve never read it, and probably never will. The attachment is purely physical.
When I hold this book I feel like I’m holding my Grandad, Stanley. Something about the look and feel reminds me of his well-worn face and his enigmatic life. Just like Stanley’s, I know virtually nothing of the life of this book and so I project a whole host of imaginings onto it. I can sit for hours pondering what went on to give the exterior such lines and creases. I imagine the letterpress printer with big, grubby hands grafting for weeks to print each page to perfection. I imagine it being trotted over to the publisher in London (John Lane, The Bodley Head) and I imagine the pride on the face of the publisher as he lifts back the cover to reveal 800 pages of hard work, tangible at last. I imagine the shopkeeper peering through a reading glass to examine the fine reproductions. And I imagine a woman in her late thirties walking in and buying it for her musically gifted son.
The young man loves it for a time, but when he moves abroad it is tucked away for 30 years. In 1954, the man’s nephew, Christopher Garner, finds the book in the attic and claims it as his own. He writes his name on the first page in red pencil and adds the book to his already-extensive library. There it sits, absorbing the smokey haze of Christopher’s den. Upon his death some decades later, Christopher’s entire book collection is donated to T. L. House Library who stake their claim, in a somewhat juvenile hand, on the first page. Christopher Garner’s inscription remains in tact. Twenty years later the book makes its way from the T. L. House Library to a secondhand bookshop in Edinburgh where a young lady with a book fetish well beyond her years finds it hidden, spine out, among the other old men.
All this is made up, of course, but then I’m not sure there’s much truth in the stories I’ve heard about Stanley either. It’s much more fun to believe he really did bring a goose home on a lead from the pub one night.