Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas is About Books

For me Christmas has always been about books. Even before I was the biggest book nerd out there, Christmas and books went together like a hand in a glove. There was a local children's bookstore in Madison called Pooh Corner that I'd invariably get gifts from. They'd come wrapped in that way only a store could do with a little tag with Pooh and Piglet. Usually they were wrapped in brown paper, but somehow that didn't matter, that red yarn ribbon was just the right accent. My shelves still contain all these books from Christmases past; except for Maurice Sendak's version of The Nutcracker. Seriously, those illustrations are the stuff of nightmares. But there was always a frisson of excitement waiting for these books to come from friends and family. Unlike presents from my parents or grandparents, the rules about waiting to open them were more lax so I could often finagle an unwrapping within a few hours of their arrival, though once a package from my aunt somehow circumnavigated the globe before arriving long past Christmas. Luckily books don't perish. As for presents from my parents, my brother and I were often allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve. One year I picked a present that I had been intrigued with because of it's book-like shape. It was On the Banks of Plum Creek, which happens to be one of my favorite books in the Little House series. In fact I received all the books in hardcover that year, though my mom insisted that they be on display in our fancy bookshelves, because she was also a fan. Some years my parents were more cunning in their wrapping so you couldn't detect books from that distinct book-like shape. My brother and I received the entire Children's Illustrated Classics in a box that could have easily fit the both of us! But the true Christmas gift was when I didn't have to assemble anything for my brother, he of the ever elaborate GI Joe and Lego playsets, and I could curl up with one of my new books.

As the years went by my love of curling up with a book became more and more prevalent. I recently heard of the holiday in Iceland, Jólabókaflóð, literally, "the Christmas book flood." You get a new book on Christmas Eve, then crawl into a freshly made bed of crisp and clean sheets and read the night away. To me, this sounds divine, and indicates that I need to get myself to Iceland. There's an Icelandic saying that everyone has a book in their stomach, but I think it's in the blood. It thrums through you. It's not just the story you have to tell but all the stories that become a part of you. Recently I was contacted through my blog by a representative of Invaluable, the world's largest live auction marketplace. They were wondering if I would like to write a blog post on my passion for books and my dream literary collection. This got me thinking, when did my buying of whatever books I felt like reading start to become collecting? When did I start consciously forming a library? When did this need start thrumming through my veins? I think it might have started with that set of Little House books. For the first time my worn and battered copies of books I loved were replaced with nice new editions, though I still have the worn ones as well. But I don't think I realized this at the time. The books were a lovely present and that is all I thought about it. It was another series of Children's books that awoke the collector in me. Books of Wonder started to release these lovely facsimile editions of the Oz books by L. Frank Baum and I eagerly awaited the release of each one. While the collecting of these books indicates the starting of my library, it's more than that, it's the collecting of an author's oeuvre. It's finding an author you connect with that you need to have all their books, and if possible signed copies. Once the number of first editions and signed copies start to take over the rest of the books, a true collection is forming.

My great-grandfather, Joseph Martin, was a Justice of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court and an avid collector of books, a few of which I'm lucky enough to have; lucky indeed seeing as his daughters liked to randomly divide up the matched sets, hence I have half of Pride and Prejudice. He had read somewhere that to be a true gentleman you had to have a library of ten thousand books, but you also have to have read them. I am slowly but surely headed there. But there's only so much shopping at used bookstores and secondhand shops that helps to fill out your collection. There are those books; the white whales that will never show up at these type of stores. Those books too valuable, or perhaps invaluable, that you have to look for elsewhere. These books would be the centerpiece of your collection. The keystone to everything. Your very own Holy Grail. So what are my dream books? What do I want to see on my shelf? What would my library look like, aside from the fact that it is TARDIS-like in that it can ever expand to hold all my books? Well, firstly I see one of those globes that open and hold maps or drinks. I can't help it, ever since reading The Secret History of the Pink Carnation Lauren Willig has somehow made this a must. The more attainable of books would be a signed first edition of The Princess Bride. I've been coveting a copy of that for years. I'd then move onto signed first editions of all my favorite Terry Pratchett books. Then onto rarer fare, signed first editions of Agatha Christie, maybe even Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles to be thematic with my blog at the moment. Of course the holiest of holies? These would have to wait until I had my English Country House, but first editions of all Jane Austen, especially ones before she was credited by name and only say "By a Lady." Oh, and editions of all the Brontes's work, when published under their "Bell" pseudonyms, or even just a scap of one of those letters their father cut up for fans. And and and... a girl can dream can't she? A girl can go to bed on Christmas Eve after reading and dream of all the possibilities of what books are wrapped and waiting for her under the tree. It's Christmas after all, what other time of the year is there to dream big and believe in miracles? Or signed first editions of Jane Austen?


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