Shiny new books, as well as being a rather fabulous website here, are things likely to bring pleasure to any bibliophile. There’s nothing like picking up a brand new volume, with clean white page block, unmarked cover, and sniffing inside the smell of freshly printed pages. So why is it that I often find myself just as thrilled by an older book??

It’s not that this is a new tendency, as I’ve always had a thing about old books – from the time I used to borrow battered old volumes from the school library, to picking up cheap paperbacks from jumble sales, and then discovering second-hand bookshops in my teens. This of course was partly driven by necessity, as we had very little money to spare for books when I was young, and we made good use of the local library. However, I do always seem to have had that nagging feeling that *somehow* an old, preloved book has, well – more character!!

Old Penguins are a case in point; I come from the school of thought that believes you can’t go wrong with a Penguin, and my shelves are stacked with fragile old paperbacks. Yet in many cases I could get a brand new version for the same cost, or possibly less.Yet I’m drawn to dated covers, funny illustrations and designs, frayed dust jackets and the whole history of ownership of the book.

A good example is the second Nancy Spain book I’ve obtained recently. It’s a lovely old green crime Penguin (and they’re another type that’s a reliable bet for a good read) – it’s browning, got foxing, but it has a lovely map of the crime scene in the front, a cast of characters and a hint of its past. And when I picked it up, out fluttered a small black and white photograph…

spain

This was intriguing to say the least. I’m used to finding old receipts, shopping lists, advertising flyers etc in second-hand books – I tend to use whatever’s nearest as a bookmark myself, so I sympathise with previous owners! But a photograph? It appears to be of the Eiffel Tower and if I read the date properly is from 1956 – when the book was published. I can’t read all of the inscription, but the photo sets me thinking. Did the book owner receive it from a friend or relation or lover? Did they stay together or part in sadness? Did the photo sit there all that time, on someone’s shelf, till time took its toll and their book collection was sold?

photo

Well, not all second-hand books come with a mystery; and I will always love receiving a shiny new book, or picking up the latest in a series I’m reading, or flicking through the latest Pelican (how happy I am that they’ve relaunched the imprint!) But preloved books, with a history and a story of their own will always have a special place in my heart.

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