Technology is usually my friend – except when it is not. My latest episode of Me Vs. Technology occurred at 1:30 a.m. this past Sunday, when I accidentally locked my laptop keyboard without a clue on how to unlock it. What a frustrating end to a very long day!
I have learned to love the many benefits of technology. But there is one aspect of technology I have not successfully embraced: The E-Reader. Call it a Kindle, a Nook, whatever. I have not been able to set aside real books in exchange for digital ones. Something about the printed page draws me into a story in a way that a backlit screen never does.
My family’s love of the printed page is evident in the two 6-ft tall bookshelves that surround our fireplace. You can find everything there- from cookbooks to the Hardy Boys, history books to theology books, and more. Today as I was searching for a particular book, my eye caught a corner of the bookshelf that holds a special collection: our antique books. I haven’t looked at them in a while. We never set out to collect antique books. They have come to us randomly, from grandparents’ collections, a parent’s library, and other sources. But our mini-collection fits us perfectly.
My husband loves history, especially Lincoln history. One antique book, written by Tribune correspondent Albert Richardson and published in 1865, is titled, The Secret Service:The Field, The Dungeon, and The Escape. Its 500+ string-bound pages tell vivid tales of a reporter traveling among the troops, fields and towns of the Civil War. A second string-bound book, The Life and Public Services of Abraham Lincoln, also published in 1865, includes a detailed record of Lincoln’s life, rise to leadership, and untimely death. Holding these books in my hands feels like I know someone who was actually there.
My love of Literature and English are well-represented in the 1892 edition of The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper, accompanied by a book titled Child Life, an 1872 collection of poems by John Greenleaf Whittier. These reside next to Webster’s Pocket Dictionary, copyright 1924, and The Elements of English Grammar, first owned by Sarah Grimmer who signed and dated the front page in 1857.
My husband, as a pastor, has great admiration for the life and work of Charles H. Spurgeon, so The Life and Labors of C.H. Spurgeon is meaningful to him. The front page contains a beautiful hand-written message, “To our dear pastor, wishing him a Merry Christmas” – signed, Mr. and Mrs. F.H. Tyler, 1885. An 1882 printing of The Treasury of David, Volume I, also by Spurgeon, complements this well.
My favorite one is a small Bible printed in 1840. It is signed by Henry Tram, April 9th, 1845 – 173 years ago today. The message written below the date reads, “Search the Scriptures”, with a notation of St. John 5:39 and Psalm 107. I wonder what occasion brought about the gift of a Bible on this day 173 years ago? The gift of a book – this book – having been passed down for several generations, resides on our bookshelf today.
There is something valuable, an unstated preciousness, in the history that comes with a book. The finest hand-held devices, the fastest literary technology, will never replace this. I doubt we will be passing down our Kindles for our children and grandchildren to read. There is no personal history in an e-book. No handwritten note, no beautifully-scribed signature. No worn pages from re-reading a favorite passage. Maybe Henry Tram had it right, 173 years ago, when he gave this book, a Bible, as a gift. Perhaps a book is one of the best gifts of all!