Mildew and Vanilla

For me, true bliss is a place where a shelf is full of well-worn paperback books.


I like books. Not just reading them, but the things themselves. I grew up in the 70s, and the older I get, the more I find myself picking up copies of books that date from back then--paperbacks mostly--in used bookstores or at rummage sales.

Some of these purchases can be rationalized.

This might come in handy at some point

, I’ll say to myself as I lay down two dollars for a copy of some novel or nonfiction book that I know won’t really ever come in handy at all. The truth is I just like the feel--the atmosphere--of the thing. I have, for example, at least three different editions of Herman Hesse’s famously hard-to-get-into novel "The Glass Bead Game." The first copy I bought for the perfectly sensible reason that I still, at some point in my life, intended to try to read it. The second copy? Well, I just liked it. It was the old Bantam paperback edition that I used to see on countless peoples’ shelves back when I was a kid and a teenager. The pages had yellowed around the edges in that particular kind of way that Bantam paperbacks--as opposed to, say, Dell or Ballantine paperbacks--do. And when I held it up to my face and flipped the pages, it had that smell that so many paperbacks from back then have--vaguely like vanilla, with a faint touch of the mildew it no doubt picked up over the course of decades in someone’s attic or summer house.


How could I not buy it?

My third copy of "The Glass Bead Game"? Another Bantam edition, but an older one, in which the yellowing process was further along, and the smell of vanilla was more pronounced. This one, in addition, had only cost a quarter, so I really had no choice but to buy it as well. Who was to say? Maybe when I did finally get around to reading the book I’d like it so much that I’d want to pass one or two of my copies along. Now I had them, just in case I did.

On one level, of course, all of this is very easy to explain. It’s another case of that mild psychological malady that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called “collectionism” which so many people suffer from, and which I wrote about in a

previous post about the knick-knacks I have on my desk at work
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Ptolemy Tompkins
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