29 September 2011

Old Books

The above books are the oldest on my bookshelf. I keep thinking I should dispose of them but they have a firm hold on me. It would be like removing memories and that’s a very difficult thing to do. Apart from one book, which was given to me by my father, all of them came from the parents’ bookcase. I’m not sure how I got them but get them I did. There were other books that I would have liked to keep but they didn’t come my way. My guess is my mother gave a lot away before she emigrated to Australia, or maybe they were sold in the final auction on the house.

I remember how much I loved the story about Babar the Elephant (Jean De Brunhoff, 1931) and the books about Widgery Winks and his friends (Rodney Bennett, 1901) kept me enthralled for hours. However, I did get to keep the Karik and Valya book – see below. I had hoped my own children would get to read those that I loved but sadly it wasn’t to be.

These are the ones that will stay on the bookshelf until I visit that huge library in the sky.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a novel by Mark Twain, was first published in England in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885. However, my version is dated 1924. Old enough!

Inside is a Notice, which reads:

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persona attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

By order of the Author (per G.G., Chief of Ordnance)

The story:

Huck Finn, the protagonist and narrator of the novel, is around thirteen or fourteen years of age. He is being raised by Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas, both of whom blindly accept the hypocritical religious and moral nature of their society and try to help Huck understand its codes and customs. They represent an artificial life that Huck wishes to escape. Huck's attempt to help Jim, a runaway slave, reunite with his family makes it difficult for him to understand what is right and wrong. The book follows Huck and Jim's adventures rafting down the Mississippi River, where Huck gradually rejects the values of the dominant society, especially its views on slavery.

Read more:

ALICE IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll. Published 1929. My reprinted edition, dated 1939, arrived in the family bookcase in 1941.

It is Lewis Carroll’s ‘very own book’ containing stories, poems, and pictures, all his own inventon. When long ago youngsters read Alice in Wonderland it was in the belief that the story was his but the pictures were the invention of his friend, that rare artist, Tenniel. It was not until much later years that the Lewis Carroll Picture Book and the facsimile of the story of Alice, as he wrote it out in his clear handwriting and illustrated it with his own hand, showed what a double magician he was with pen and pencil.

We all know the story of Alice in Wonderland. Don’t we?

THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF KARIK AND VALYA by Yan Larry. Translated from the Russian by John P Manderville.

There is no publishing date inside the book but it is thought it was written in 1944

The book was given to me by my father.

In the first episode a boy name Karik and his siter Valya are in the apartment of professor Ivan Germogenovich Enotov. Without permission they take the ‘delicious’ pills invented by the professor and become so small that on a dragonfly’s back they fly away from the room. The professor also takes the pills and goes to find them. The incredible adventures and amazing discoveries in the world plants and insects are waiting for them.

THE WATER BABIES by Charles Kingsley

Written in 1862. No date in the book but it is so old the pages are yellowing.

The hero is Tom, a young chimney sweep, who falls into a river after encountering an upper-class girl named Ellie and being chased out of her house. There he drowns and is transformed into a "water baby", as he is told by a caddis fly (an insect that sheds its skin) and begins his moral education.

The story is thematically concerned with Christian redemption, though Kingsley also uses the book to argue that England treats its poor badly and to question child labour, among other themes.

Tom embarks on a series of adventures and lessons, and enjoys the community of other water babies once he proves himself a moral creature. The major spiritual leaders in his new world are the fairies Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby, Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, and Mother Carey. Weekly, Tom is allowed the company of Ellie, who had fallen into the river after he did.

Grimes, his old master, drowns as well, and in his final adventure Tom travels to the end of the world to attempt to help the man where he is being punished for his misdeeds. Tom helps Grimes to find repentance, and Grimes will be given a second chance if he can successfully perform a final penance. By proving his willingness to do things he does not like, if they are the right things to do, Tom earns himself a return to human form and becomes "a great man of science" who "can plan railways, and steam-engines, and electric telegraphs, and rifled guns, and so forth". He and Ellie are united, although the book claims that they never marry.

LONDON BELONGS TO ME written by Norman Collins in 1945

The story begins in 1938 and records the lives of a group of Londoners prior to WW2, though the story is not about the horrors of war. A diverse group of people struggle with daily life, mostly on paltry budgets. They live in the house of a lonely landlady. The group consists of an ageing glamour girl, newly retired Mr Josser, and other characters, all of them fascinating. The book can be likened to a Charles Dickens novel. I really must get round to seeing the film.

BLACK COUNTRY STORIES compiled by T H Gough in 1934.

It is an omnibus edition containing five complete volumes. The Black Country (I’ve mentioned this before) is an industrial area in the West Midlands. The name was derived in the mid-nineteenth century from the smoke from thousands of ironworking foundries and forges and from the abundance of coal and soot in the area.

There is humour in the Black Country. If you could hear a Black Country comedian you would agree. They speak differently to my part of the West Midlands (which is lush with trees and parks and lakes) and some of the stories in the book have to be read with a translator. But they’re good fun once the art of translation is mastered. Here are a few ... my favourite is the last one, Proud Woman:

Did it well, too

A Bishop asked a country Rector why he wore a violet stole. He said: ‘A parson should always be ‘inviolate.’

A warning

‘What was the Vicar asayin’, last Sunday, about Lot’s wife?’ said one girl to another.

‘What did ‘e mean by ‘Remember Lot’s wife?’ ‘What did ‘er dew?’

‘O, ‘er looked back,’ said the other, ‘an’ ‘er was turned into a piller o’ salt, an’ serve ‘er right, the fast madam.’

A Threat

A man was being lowered down a well by the aid of a rope, and shouted to the man who held the rope that he wanted to come up again.

‘What for?’ said the man at the top.

‘Never yo’ mind. If yo’ doe stop lettin’ me down I’ll cut the ------ rope.’

Proud Woman

A woman was persuaded to go to Old Hill Church for the first time in her life. To cover a somewhat shabby dress she put on a white apron which was also very much worn. During the time that they were singing the well known hymn ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ she shouted out, ‘It may be ‘oly but it’s clane.’


  1. Hi Valerie,

    I am quite impressed by your old books on your library shelf.
    Goodness; you have some antiques!
    You are so right to keep them.
    I am not familiar with all of them.

    I only know with your first three.
    I had Babar when I was young, as well as Dr Seuss and another called "Curious George", about a very curious monkey.

    Have a good day.

  2. no way i would get rid of them...ah, i bet they smell wonderful...i love old most of those...

  3. I would love to read your books! I love books, old, new or whatever. I have a few that I have read over and over, and still enjoy as much as the first time.

    Have a great week end!

  4. Very interesting post. Those books are the bones of ones collection and I'd keep them forever. My husband has a few old hard backed books which belonged to his grandparents so are particularly old.

    CJ xx

  5. That is a fabulous post based on a quite brilliant idea. You take us for a tour of a random part of your bookshelf and give us a delightful introduction to some books I have never come across before.

  6. That's a wonderful collection of old books. I do vaguely remember reading the Huck Finn one MANY years ago. I'm picturing myself walking around the little courtyard in grammar school trying to decide which books to get. I've always been a reader. :)
    I'm pretty sure I read 'Alice in Wonderland' too, but having seen the more recent movie, that's what I'm picturing.

  7. These books are a treasure! Not only because of their age, but also since some belonged to your parents. I definitely wouldn't get rid of them!

  8. Good afternoon, Barb. Wasn't Babar a sweet story. I read all of them, I think, including when he was made King and his queen was Queen Celeste.

    Brian, I won't get rid of them. They don't smell too bad ... for old books.

    Crystal Jigsaw, I will definitely keep them. Not sure if I'll get round to reading them again.

    Hi Loretta, usually once I've read a book I don't read it again, but we'll see if that happens with the oldies.

    Hello CrystalChick, after Babar I think Alice in Wonderland was my 'real' book. It was fun discovering all the old favourites.

    Alan, thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed the booklshelf tour.

  9. Valerie, all of these treasured books are wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about them here with us. The older the book, the better - I always say.

    Looking forward to reading through your posts now. I miss reading your words!!

  10. Nice trip down Memory Lane, Val. As a boy, I remember reading the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. There was also a girl called Becky, I think. And then there was Injun Joe. Hell, he scared the living shotguns out of me.

  11. Pat, I will keep them, honestly.

    Kelly, lovely to see you; I know how busy you are lately.

    Mr V. I'd forgotten about Tom Sawyer. Yes, I read that too.

  12. "I keep thinking I should dispose of them but they have a firm hold on me."

    No! No! Don't ever dispose of them Valerie. Old books are like old friends. And like Brian shared...I bet they smell WONDERFUL! That's my favorite part of a book - the SMELL!

    What an AMAZING collection of books you have!

    LOVE Alice In Wonderland! Also, the Wizard of Oz!

    When I was a kid, Dr. Seuss books were my fav. Also, the Dick and Jane books.

    Have a wonderful weekend, dear lady!


  13. Wow........makes me wanna run my hands across the covers and leaf through the pages. The smell happened for me without even being near. I love old books with their cloth bound covers and their lithograph pictures.

    *happy sigh*
    There's a few tucked away in safe places here--I believe they need to be liberated and loved.

    Thanks for that!

    What a wonderful post.

  14. Hi Ron. Gosh, I forgot the Wizard of Oz. Shame on me. I promise not to dispose of the books. They're a permanent fixture on the shelf.

    Mel, you are right, the old books do have a different 'feel' to modern ones.


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