Sentiment prompts readers to cherish their worn-out books

Readers say their old books are more than objects: they’re physical reminders of love.

Your tattered old books remind you of parents and grandparents, childhood, higher education, traditions or travels or memorable moments. Your worn books are more than objects: they are physical reminders of love.

In response to a column I wrote a few months ago about conserving used books, readers sent in dozens of stories and photos — more than I have room to post here. Here’s a sample, and a big thank you to everyone who wrote.

Chuck Haga from Grand Forks, North Dakota (and a beloved former Star Tribune columnist) sent in a photo of “Common Plants of Itasca State Park,” published by the Bell Museum. “The back cover is torn and there are stains everywhere – sweat, coffee, rainwater, blueberry pie, bug spray – but he’s been on 40 or more trips to the park with me,” he wrote.

Carolyn Light Bell, Minneapolis: “I have thrown away, donated, and donated to small libraries many of my paperbacks and yellowed books. But my tattered ee cummings “Complete Poems, 1913-1962” represents a part of my life that I cherish deeply. Once, I replaced the old one with a new one, trying to dress up my bookshelf, but it turned out that I couldn’t bear to part with that old book.

Karen Kelly, Edina, Minnesota: “My copy of DH Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love’ doesn’t have its cover because of the beating it took late one night in 1980. Last year at Vanderbilt, trying to write an article at 2 a.m. which was (duh) due at 8 a.m. one of my housemates was in the same boat. In a moment of hard-hitting, stress-reducing melodrama, she made me laugh when I got up and started banging my book against the corner of a brick wall. I have kept this book not because I intend to read it again someday, but because it is a treasured keepsake of a treasured friend and a precious moment.

Rebecca Loader, Minneapolis: “Mum gave my great-aunt Bertha a copy of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ for Christmas 1933. Everyone has read that book. The red cover has torn and the pages have become brittle. Many had dog ears to mark the readers’ place. The spine has come off and some photos have come off the binding.

“Mom got the book when Bertha died, and I first read it when I was 12. Along the way, pages 170-171 acquired several mysterious spots: Does Bertha s “Pricked her finger while she was sewing and left blood dripping? Did Bertha spill coffee? The stains only add to the mystery of the book.

Molly Koivumaki, Chaska, MN: “The childhood book I can’t part with is ‘The Night Before Christmas’, which I received for Christmas in 1964 when I was 5.

“On the inside cover of the book, my mother wrote my name, Molly Anne Baird, and inscribed my name and that of my siblings on the illustrations of four mice and three gifts.

“1964 was a difficult year for our family. Mom was in the hospital most of the summer. At one point the doctor told dad to take the kids to the hospital so she could say goodbye, but she absolutely refused to say goodbye. She lived another 50 years. She passed away in 2014. It is a wonderful gift to see her beautiful handwriting, truly a family treasure.

Paula Baudhuin, Minneapolis: “My sister, who died aged 54 in 2004, and I shared books for decades. These books are full of underlines, comments and questions. When I pick up these books now, it’s almost like I’ve found my sister.

Richard Terrill, New Hope, Minnesota: “My copy of ‘Walden’ with all my notes in it is now a sheaf of loose pages for the most part. I bought a new copy thinking of transferring the notes from the old one. But I never have. Right next to them both on the shelf, I see the rubber band holding “A Sand County Almanac” together has snapped.

Dinesh Shenoy, Minneapolis: “I’ve had my copy of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ for probably 30 years. Every time I read it I have to tape some pages or the binding, but I will never buy a newer copy. Having my childhood copy reminds me of how much it caused a huge mental jolt in me as a teenager and is a major influence on me throughout my life.

Ivy Wright, Duluth, Minnesota: “My copy of ‘101 Famous Poems’ is copyrighted 1916. It belonged to my grandmother, who would have been 25 that year. I save it for the fact that she owned it, read it in bits and pieces, and was the most important person in my childhood.

Janet Fee, Apple Valley, Minnesota: “At age 13, in 1974, I got my first summer job. With my first salary, I bought my first book. I had always been a reader, but until then all my books went through the library. The book is “The Wolf and the Dove” by Kathleen Woodiwiss. As an adult, at one point I had over 4,000 books, but this one I will never part with.

Thomas R. Smith, River Falls, Wis.: “My most treasured tattered book is a Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, received as an honor award in my senior year of high school. But that’s not why I cherish it. As I prepared to leave home for college, the first in my working-class family to do so, my father, with fondness and no doubt also with some sadness, imprinted my name and hometown on her blanket in her hand en bloc to identify it as mine. In the process, Dad inscribed his memory into this volume.

Richard Terrill’s copy of “Walden” is falling apart, but he won’t replace it.

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