As part of an online class discussion, I had to stop by Project Gutenberg and look around.

Simultaneously I got pinged with a couple of YouTube videos to check out.

The end result of this combination was that I was listening to Tiny Desk while looking at old books online. I am drawn to books published during La Belle Epoque and Art Deco periods. Perhaps that taste is simple, but I don’t care. It warms me in a weird way.

I’ve seen this art before. My grandmother used to buy old hardcover books at the Value Village when I was growing up. She’d read from day to night sometimes, during those periods I can now identify clearly but back then were simply days I’d have to go buy her cigarettes for her with a note and some extra change for a candy bar. My grandmother had her up moments, her very up moments, and then she had her down ones, her very very down ones. She cycled pretty rapidly.

During the reading times she sat by her bedroom window, bottles of nitroglycerin scattered around on her bedside table. She’d look out the window to the street, chainsmoke her Carlton 120 menthols and read these books. Periodically she would demand something of me and eventually I would remove a stack of books from her bedroom and stack them somewhere else, usually on the stairs going down to the basement. When the stairs got dangerous, the books would move to the basement itself, where I would put them on a huge floor-to-ceiling bookshelf that took up one wall. When that was full, I began stacking them on the floor. My family’s baggage was written on pages.

When she died, my mother had to go several states back home and clean out the house. It is good I did not go. In her old-fashioned penmanship (who has that, anymore?) she’d written a book review in all of them. It is good I did not go. I would live among stacks of musty old books and I would have tried to carry them with me.

My mother remembers more about them than I do. She saw them last. What I  remember is the feel of those books, their burlappy covers and ridged fore edges that looked like my grandmother’s nails, but soft.

I couldn’t talk about the walls those books built until I moved to Star Land.


Here are some of the ones I enjoyed thanks to Project Gutenberg. Content must be considered within the context of the time during which it was published, you’ve been warned:

Star-Land – 1889

Tillicums of the Trail – 1922

Die Hexe von Norderoog – 1908

The Bear Family at Home, and How the Circus Came to Visit Them – 1908, 1923

And here are the Tiny Desk concerts that accompanied this:

Lizzo

Gallant

Masego

Tash Sultana

 

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