To introduce myself to this, the wide wide Internets, I thought I’d start out my blog with a few posts about who I am and what my background with books is. I hope this helps you all understand the perspectives I bring to thinking and talking about books as physical objects and repositories of knowledge.
I think the love of books and reading is genetic. Just like some people are right-brained and some people are left-brained, I think that the capacity to devour books (… figuratively) is something you have or you don’t. My parents are both voracious readers. My great-grandmother and namesake, Lydia Stark, was also a lifelong reader and I like to think some part of her love for books came to me with her name and the few books of hers that I have.
To be honest, I never really stood a chance, even if I had wanted to. I grew up in a house full of books. Even though the overall number of permanent denizens on the shelves is less now than it was when I was a kid, I still think of my parents’ house as bursting with books. My grandparents also had countless numbers of books on hands for those hot summer afternoons when we were forced out of the pool for fear of sunburns. I was constantly being read to or encouraged to read, and the love of books seeped into my skin and bones and has never left me. I hope it never will. By the time I was in high school, I was semi-famous among the faculty for being the only student reprimanded for reading too much.
But many people can claim to be great readers and not really be interested in the rare, delicate codices I adore with heartfelt passion (and spend far too much money on). What I want to talk about for my next few posts is why I want to do what I want to do; why I want to repair broken bindings and read medieval scrawls.
It all began with this book: The Two Dianas, Vol. II by Alexandre Dumas.
My mother discovered this book among the many volumes in the family library when I was 14. It had belong to that same Lydia Stark I mentioned earlier. Being a second volume, it began in the middle of a story that captivated my mother and I and caused us to learn about and hunt down (thanks to the kindly interlibrary loan librarians at the Chapel Hill Public Library) every other book in the roughly chronological series of historical romances produced by Alexandre Dumas. There are many: at least 26 (27 now that Dumas’ lost adventure has been published) that span French history from François I to Napoleon. I read them all over the course of one summer — to say that I devoured them is a bit of an understatement. I know at the time I could read one in a day, and even now that I read more slowly and think more thoroughly it doesn’t take me that long to get through them.
Occasionally as we were interlibrary loaning books in the series, we would get a copy that was part of the same series as our Two Dianas. This was always very exciting, but as this was the early days of Internet shopping and probably pre-Amazon, (and I was a 14 year old with slim financial resources) I never seriously considered trying to find the rest of the set until one day it fell into my lap thanks to Alibris.com. For $214 (plus shipping), I bought the entire set of 25 novels published by P. F. Collier & Son in New York in 1910 that matched my single, orphaned volume.
Thus began my personal rare book collection and my fascination with books with crumbling spines and rubbed gilt titles.
Next time I will talk about my undergraduate degree, exposure to palaeography as a discipline and how I became a medievalist.