The Musty Smell of Old Books

I have worked in publishing for many years and I think one of the reasons that I have, besides having the dreams of grandeur of being a writer one day, is because for as long as I can remember, I have had a dear love of books. Not just the stories within the books, but the physicality of them. I like having them surround me with in my office, living room, kitchen and bedroom. I enjoy just staring at them – the ones that I have read and the ones that I still have yet to read and of course the ones that I think that I have read (those are my favourite.) Books themselves, where they have been, can be a story in themselves.

Where you were when you bought your favourite book, or, who gave you the book and why. I had a friend who told me that we were friends just so she could give me The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. This book actually changed the way in which I saw my world and has probably impacted a lot of the decisions I have made in my life. The librarian in grade 4 who showed us The Diary of Anne Frank and Anne of Green Gables and who inspired me to get them for myself one day a few years later. My parents giving me the entire Little House set by Laura Ingalls Wilder on my seventh birthday. I have read those more times then I can recall. And then there is James Joyce who I stumbled upon during my second year of university. These books come with me on my journey. When I moved from place to place, they came with. I might not have read them again (chances are that I did) but they are as part of me. Definitely my most cherished posessions.

Put it this way. I have one of the dining room hutches with the glass doors and instead of the traditional plates that people put, I have rows of old books. I think it is a good place for them because it puts them out of harms way. But they do need to be taken out now and then and played with.

A new group of books found there way into the hutch yesterday. A colleague and friend from class emailed me a few weeks ago and told me that she heard that I was a huge L.M. Montgomery fan. As you know, this is definitely true. I softly admited that I was indeed a “huge L.M. Montgomery fan.” She informed me that she had “19 books collecting dust” and wondered if I wanted them. I am a collector of old editions of my favourites. I am often on the hunt for old children’s books. I said that I would definitely take a look at them. For all I knew, they were little paperbacks from the 1980s.

Well, my friends, I think that what my friend brought me was a book lovers and Montgomery lovers dream. An almost full set of Montgomery novels from the 1940s. They belonged to her step grandmother who grew up on a farm outside Orillia, Ontario. Inside almost every book was written either her name, my friend’s name and/or how many times my friend’s step grandmother had read them. Some of them are moldy a little, the binding is a little warn and water marked. Others, were in almost perfect condition. The entire Emily set has the original covers (although slightly worn). These books were read over and over and they were loved. I felt so honoured that my friend decided to pass these on to me. She said that she knew that they would be in good hands. I told her that they would sit within a hutch protected and that eventually I would give them to an archive. She was comfortable with that.

My friend told me that these books seemed to help her step grandmother during hard times. This is something that I hear often about Montgomery’s books. I know that she herself had written that she had hoped that this is what her books would do for people. I hope that I, too, can give people that same kind of escape someday.

But these books! The smell of them, the texture, the history that they contain within them. Where they have travelled, what they hold within them is a story in itself. I feel grateful to be apart of their lives and them apart of mine. I am like a little kid all over again. I just want to take them with me today to show and tell, but I don’t think that would work in an office…


About Melanie J. Fishbane

My novel, MAUD: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery was published in 2017 through Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I talk about my writing process, things I love, and creative people who inspire me.
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