Saturday, December 1, 2007

What Was She Thinking?

"Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack."
-- Virginia Woolf

It sounds cool, but what does she actually mean?

I'm getting a mental image of used books, like feral kittens or impounded strays, rescued by philanthopic bibliophiles who buy them in order to give them loving homes. Part the charm of used books is that they do come with a history: bookplates, inscriptions, marginalia. And they are time travelers on our shelves, adding visual and historical interest simply as artifacts.

As I look up from the computer I can see to my right the Johnson section of my library. A 1794 edition of The Rambler, with its thick paper and the old fashioned "s's" that look like "f''s," is sitting next to the 1963 Yale edition of The Idler and The Adventurer with its critical introductions, varient readings, and explanatory notes. The latter is a useful and informative edition. The former gives a sense of immediacy to the past.


Enbrethiliel said...


When I read that quote, I suddenly thought of used books as the gypsies of the biblio-universe. Unapologetically colourful, content to live on the fringes . . . I always thought that the supposedly abandoned books at the nearby USBs didn't look like the forlorn orphans they were supposed to be--like the Lost Boys in J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. =P

I very much prefer the "tamer" brand new books at the chain stores--though I have the feeling that if my personal library were ever let loose on the world, only about half of my books would want new owners like me. The rest would enjoy a bohemian existence in a USB.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Not sure what a USB is. Something regional?

Enbrethiliel said...


It's an acrostic for used bookstore. =P