Browsing, serendipity and books made to last
Last year, I took my green-thumbed mother to England to celebrate her birthday with a tour of the ‘Gardens of England’ and the Chelsea Flower Show. Today I wandered into a local book fair, not expecting more than tattered paperbacks, yet I found treasures: two Folio Society books in mint condition, still in their slip cases and on offer for just $10 each. One was In Your Garden and In Your Garden Again by Vita Sackville-West. This was an unexpected windfall for my mother, as one of the gardens we visited in 2012 was Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst Castle in Kent.
While we were at Sissinghurst, we climbed the Castle’s Elizabethan tower to see Vita’s writing room and take in the views of the gardens. The tower is shown in silhouette on the cloth binding of In Your Garden.
In England last year, I bought a lovely memento of that green and pleasant land: an illustrated collection of poetry celebrating the British landscape called Ode to the Countryside. I’ve made a note on the end papers to remind myself that I bought the book at Nymans, West Sussex. Now the book, the poetry and my memories of the countryside are one.
As convenient as it is to carry around a whole library on one slim digital device, I’m constantly reminded of the tactile pleasures and longevity of the printed book.
At an antiquarian book fair in 2011, I bought a 1907 English edition of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé (Wilde wrote the original in French, which was published in 1893) and a 1902 edition of Robert Harborough Sherard’s Oscar Wilde: The Story of An Unhappy Friendship.
Although my e-book reader is only two years old it has started to malfunction, yet these old ‘dead tree’ books, Salomé and Oscar Wilde are still readable and beautiful after more than 100 years. Surely that makes them greener and more useful than a plastic, metal and chemical device that hasn’t lasted three?