Jun 15, 2007

The Story of an Unloved Book

Among the many dozens of books I have checked out of the university library is a text that is part of the second series of the Hakluyt Society, which includes printed editions of primary records of voyages and travels by early modern and late medieval European writers. Entitled The Book of the Knowledge of all the Kingdoms, Lands, and Lordships that are in the World, the text was purportedly written by a Spanish Franciscan friar in the mid-fourteenth century, and contains much of the sort of fanciful ignorance that was the late medieval European worldview.

Yet what I found puzzling was that I was the first person to ever check out this book, which probably arrived on the bookshelves of the University of Toledo's Carlson Library in the late 1960s. Nearly forty years have passed since that time, and in that time the book may never have left the library.

Sure, at least a few people picked it up, and maybe a handful of scholars sat down and perused it in the library. It likely moved a few times from floor-to-floor, and might even have made it as far as the circulation desk with a student who did not bring an ID.

But until 2007 this book never entered someone's home.

So I sit with this interesting book, smelling its paper and touching pages that might never have been in contact with human skin before. In a way this book is like an artifact, uncovered after a long period of storage, seeing sunshine after an eternity of being ignored.

I now feel obligated to read this book cover-to-cover, since translators and editors worked so hard to bring it to textual form, and historians and librarians deemed it worthy of purchase as part of the Hakluyt collection. I almost feel that I should be wearing latex gloves before opening the book, desiring to maintain its pristine state.

I hope that another forty years does not pass before someone decides to check this book out of the library.


Anonymous said...

I haven't seen one of those old yellow library cards in a loooong time.

Anonymous said...

Is your wife ever jealous of that love affair you're having with books?

historymike said...

Anonymous #1:

Yes, those DO seem strange in this age of bar codes.

historymike said...

Anonymous #2:

Heh. We are both bibliophiles, but we also do quite a few things together.

Plus, sometimes we lie together and read. Phew! The blog takes a racy turn.

(feeling dirty, historymike goes off to take a shower)

webduck said...

There is nothing like having a book make you feel sorry for it that no one had actually read it until now. My kind of guy!

Valbee said...

Those yellow cards still pop up now and then. We pull them when we see them, especially the ones with writing on them because they contain information about the patrons who checked out the book. My favorite thing to do is to look at how far back the date stamps go.

historymike said...

Yikes! I just noticed my improper article usage.

(fixes title, goes off to Grammar Corner)

historymike said...

Thanks, Webduck!

historymike said...

I just KNEW ValBee would weigh in on this topic.


Yes, I sometimes look at the date stamps and see how far back they go, or how long in between checkouts a book went.

I remember seeing a book that sat on the shelves for 20 years, which was the longest period of time I had seen until this particular book.

Anonymous said...

I once checked out a book by Francis Parkman from the UT library - the outside edges of the pages were not yet cut. Poor book, it had never been read either.

microdot said...

Francis Parkman? What book?
I just finished his magnificent Pioneers of France in The New World.

historymike said...

This is a moment of cultural and academic ignorance for me - I have never read any Francis Parkman.

(goes off to corner to fret)

Stephanie said...

Some day somebody (other than yourself) is going to be compelled to write about you -- at least a partial character sketch tucked away in a novel you might never read, or might not recognize as yourself if you do. Of this I'm certain. It's got to be done.

But, yeah, I have felt compassion for many a lonely book, though never with such great cause. However, now -- all I can think is that book is lucky it's not in my house. My poor books!

It's vexing when my kids ruin their own books. However, they are kids' books, so what do you do but buy more? Now, they're ruining my books. I've spent over a decade building my pitiful collection. And, I swear, despite my children's disbelief, my books do NOT need colorful additions made in Crayola crayon!

I won't even mention what they did to my illustrated copy of The Wizard of Oz.

historymike said...


1. I have had some interesting experiences, but I am not sure I would make much of a novel character. I would rather write about more compelling characters than I will ever be...

2. Agreed about kids and books. One of my kids just racked up over $200 in charges at his school for returning his books in an unusuable condition.

Stephanie said...

1. Think about Sherlock Holmes: What makes his "life" novel-worthy is what he does, i.e. sleuthing; what makes his character a classic is who he is, i.e. his turns of phrase and his manner of leading Watson by the nose and being appreciated for it.

Real people, such as yourself, rarely make for good novels. We just don't live within that necessary plot arc. However, who we are is a different matter. Coloring a character with a life of imagination, but aspects of real people does make for good fiction. You just can't make it too transparent. Thus, you would make a good character; even when what you do is more pleasantly mundane than we'd like to have for a plot arc.

2. Ouch. My kids are not up to the point where they bring home textbooks. I hadn't really thought that far ahead. In some things, ignorance really is bliss.