Friday, 3 January 2014

'On the Ownership of Books'

As a rule I don't reproduce entire articles or passages written by others; maybe, a few quotes in context of a review or a general post. This time, however, I’m making an exception because I felt readers would enjoy it as much as I did (in context of my commandments in an earlier post). The article is titled ‘On the Ownership of Books’ and it was published 85 years ago, in 1928, in The Literary Review [Vol.1, No.1, June 1928] of State Teachers College, Farmville, Virginia. Today, the college is known as Longwood College affiliated to Longwood University. 

The author of the article is one Frances Volk who, I think, was a student at State Teachers College. She was also the vice president of Argus Literary Society, VA, in 1926. Frances has written on a topic that is very close to our hearts—books—and her views even nearly a century ago were just the same as ours today. Some things never change. Read on…


On the Ownership of Books

By Frances Volk

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any courses like a page
Of prancing poetically.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How fragile is the chariot
That bears a human soul!
— Emily Dickinson


There is a special appeal about the books which you own. No other books are quite like them. No matter how much you like the books which belong to the library, or to your friends, or even to your family, none of them quite fits into that place which is reserved for your very own books. How proud you felt when you were a child and were given a book, and looked inside to find a book-plate on which was inscribed the words: "Mary Ellen — Her Book."

By owning books, I do not mean merely possessing them. Anybody can have books—whole rooms full of them, and never own a one. You have to love them and become a part of them before you own them. Next to reading books yourself, nothing is more pleasant than lending your books to someone else who will cherish them. You get a vicarious enjoyment out of it almost equal to your own first reading of the book which is borrowed.

And new books! The feel of them! To hold in your hands a new volume in its unsoiled cover, its pages freshly cut and waiting to be turned, with the pugnant odor of printer's ink still clinging to it, and to know that it is your own, "to have and to hold,"—that gives a thrill which any book-lover knows.

Owning new books is really detrimental to the moral character, however, in a mild sort of way. You steal time from yourself in order to read them. It takes a very Puritan-like person to resist the call of a new book. What if you will have the book all the rest of your life? You want it now, and you usually take it now, too.

Old books are just as delightful as new ones. I do not mean to slight them, but old books are like grown-ups. You take your time and talk to them sedately, but new books make you feel impulsive like children, and you just have to stop and play with them.

Just as you can never fully appreciate flowers until you have raised them, tended, watered, and picked them, so you can never truly know the value of a book until you have owned it, marked it, and loaned it. Then it is a "joy forever" provided, of course, it is duly returned.

© The Literary Review, State Teachers College, Farmville, Virginia, Vol.1, No.1, June 1928

14 comments:

  1. I'm going to have to show this to Lana. Although she certainly doesn't care that I own lots of books, I don't think she understands how important they are to me. Great find!

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    1. Charles, thank you. I have a lot of books and comics too and I can think of several ways of putting all that space to better use. Never going to happen, though!

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  2. Books are one of the few material objects that if you love them, they love you back.

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    1. Ron, books are like dogs, they love you right back, unconditionally.

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  3. Lovely stuff - thanks Prashant (and happy new year).

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    1. Sergio, thank you, and a very happy new year to you too! I live in the archival world.

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  4. That is a lovely article, Prashant. Thanks for sharing that.

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    1. Tracy, thank you, my pleasure. I thought it was well written.

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  5. I couldn't agree more, Prashant.

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    1. Col, I'm constantly amazed at the kind of stories and articles I come across in the archives. Much of it very readable stuff.

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  6. I like that quote, Prashant, that 'books are like dogs' - very apt. This was a lovely piece of writing. I love reading ABOUT books almost as much as I do reading them. P.S. I rarely lend books. Period.

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    1. Yvette, thank you! I really liked the way Frances Volk wrote, such fine prose. Like you I enjoy reading about books and the people who write them, as in writers at work. I usually give away books that I know I won't be holding on to.

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  7. P.S. Liked the Emily Dickinson poem, too.

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    1. Yvette, I read an Emily Dickinson poem after a long time. I like epigraphs too provided they're selected well and in context of the writing that follows.

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