A friend of mine invited me over to look through some books this afternoon. Her father, who recently passed away, was an avid collector of many things, including stamps and coins and plates and fossils and shells and rocks, but most of all books, rooms of books and rooms of books and a garage of books and a basement of books, certainly in the thousands of books. My friend is trying to clean out the house, and she will be taking many of these books to a charity sale at some point, but she asked me and some of her other friends over to have a glass of bourbon, which was poured from one of her father’s many collectible bourbon bottles, and to take what we wanted from his book collection.
As I expected from what I knew of my friend’s father, much of the collection was not really to my taste. There were boxes and boxes and shelves and shelves of trash war novels, cheap thrillers, biographies, science textbooks, old field guides, histories of the English royal family, and so on. I did make a few worthwhile discoveries however. There was a whole section of illustrators in which I found a book dedicated to the work of Howard Pyle, the artist and author that I recently discovered and enjoyed so much. I also took from this section a number of books illustrated by Gustave Dore, who is one of my favourite artists: Perrault’s Fairy Tales; London: A Pilgrimage; Illustrations for Don Quixote; Illustrations for Rabelais; Illustrations for the Bible; Fables of La Fontaine; and The Divine Comedy.
I also found a section of books for children, all in hardcover and beautifully illustrated, from which I took Howard Pyle’s Pepper and Salt, Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Hugh Lofting’s The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle and Doctor Dolittle’s Caravan, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Father Christmas Letters.
The rest of my finds included books by Desmond Morris, Robert A. Heinlein, Rudyard Kipling, Farley Mowat, Simone de Beauvoir, Goethe, Mark Twain, Pearl S. Buck, Norman Mailer, Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Mordecai Richler, and E.J. Pratt, among others, an incongruous group of authors that the other book-hunters were usually more than willing to let me claim.
Of course, in any sizable collection of used books there will be at least a few of those impromptu bookmarks that so inexplicably amuse me, and this one was no exception. I discovered two sets of drying wildflowers, left to press who knows how long ago and then forgotten, a flattened bit of cigarette foil, some torn tissue paper, a slip of notepaper with math sums on one side and a doodle on the other, a newspaper clipping about Richard Adams, “Watership Makes a Memorable Saga” by Sandra Hunter, and three newspaper clippings about Farley Mowat: “The Perfect Writer to Plead for Great Whales” by Kildare Dobbs; “Peace on Earth, Good Will” by Gale Garnett; and “The Tragic Parable of Mowat’s Whale” by William French.
The bourbon was also good.