The Old Books

Worn by the passage of years, and yet…

They will tell you now, the stories in here contain dangerous themes.

The note reads: “1853-1856 Fourth Reader. Probably used by my great-grandmother before and after the family came “Across the Plains in 64,” to teach her children and others. From 1865 the family lived in the Coos Bay, Oregon area. Great Grandmother Emily Vanderburg has a school in her home for the Vanderburg children and others. Some of her pupils were grown men.”

It was the era of the illustration, photos still being relatively exotic (although less so at the turning of the century than in, say, 1865). The cartoon was in it’s heydey, making sharp points with few lines and fewer words.

Not that a steady diet of only the old books is to be preferred. Simply that there is much to learn, and much to be held in memory, which can be forgotten willfully or through ignorance. 

Old books
Some of my oldest books.

Which leads me, of course, to Project Gutenberg. Where you can find the old books for free and easy reading. Some may be a challenge, and some are awful piffle. Some, though, are worth the effort and will deepen your knowing of the world and who we came from. 

9 thoughts on “The Old Books

  1. I discovered Project Gutenberg about the same time I discovered the Baen Free Library, which was, I believe, around 2002 or 2003. The content was rather limited on both of them at that time.
    I was able to find books I had only heard rumors of, but not been able to find. In particular, I recall discovering with delight the volume “Tom Sawyer, Detective” on Gutenberg; YOWSAH! I KNEW it existed, but after reading, I realized that the reason it wasn’t nearly as available as Twain’s other works is because it wasn’t very good.
    It was through bouncing around Gutenberg’s catalog that I gained a greater appreciation for the revolutionary style of Twain. His predecessors and contemporaries seemed to be wearing the cast-off clothes of their English and Continental betters, but Twain bursts on the scene and suddenly speaks to me in REAL conversation.
    I’d adored Poe’s detective stories, but he had the nasty habit of prefacing his work with a Latin phrase, and failed to provide a translation. The ten-year-old me assumed that I SHOULD understand the reference. No such frills associated with Twain!
    There is also a Project Gutenberg-Australia (, which not only has titles germane to the island continent, but also operates with their copyright laws. I’ve been able to find a few volumes there that don’t show up at the parent organization.

    1. I found Project Gutenberg around the same time, if not a little earlier. I started reading ebooks with the UPenn online library, and many of those titles were in PG as well. That would have been in 1999, after my first child was born and I was desperate for reading materials!

  2. “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”
    –C. S. Lewis, Introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation

  3. “The reason why authors which are yet read, of the sixteenth century, are so little understood is that they are read alone; and no help is borrowed from those who lived with them, or before them.”—Samuel Johnson to Thomas Warton

    Read an old book, one serious enough to make references to other, of necessity old, books. Read some of those referenced books. Get to know that old world – overcome your “now-ism” – because “the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.” Just dipping lightly here and there is a sure way to mislead and misunderstand.

  4. I love old books. Yes, some are right awful, some are so bad they’re funny and therefore enjoyable (See Bulmer-Lytton), and some are wonderful. One merely needs to get into the writing style of that period, and don’t get one’s panties in a twist because of all the non-PC attitudes of the past.

    Thanks to Project Gutenberg and various free offerings on the internet, I’ve added considerably to my e-book collection of classics and just plain old books. While I adore hard copy books, I have no place to put them anymore, so must limit my physical collection to only what fits on the bookshelves I have. If one comes in, one must leave. Sigh.

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