Even though I’m the owner of 2 iPads, a Kindle, and a Nook, yesterday I started reading a real book. Not a book from a bookstore, but a book I picked up out of my husband’s grandmother’s house, Frieda Putnam sometime around 1995. She was about 85 years old, living in a duplex in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania with a bookshelf filled with dozens of books purchased at used stores, rummage sales, or handed over from friends. She was moving into an old-age home and insisted that I take some of her books since I would “appreciate them”.
I remember selecting a handful of books just to humor her. To make her feel that these books she had so lovingly collected would actually mean something to me or someone in the future. I chose five books. The first was Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Dafoe. I figured that my son Ben, who was then 4 years old would enjoy reading it when he was a teenager. The second was a Children’s Anthology of Poetry and Nursery Rhymes. My daughter Cate was 2 and I thought I could read it to her at bedtime. The third was a learn-to-draw book published in the 1940’s. Frieda grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, but she said that her father had been a famous artist / photographer in San Francisco. He may have been associated with this book somehow. The fourth was Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Suzanne. I’d seen the cheesy movie and thought this might be a fun beach read. The last was a book I really wanted to read, The Drifters by James Michener. I’m not sure why this book attracted me, but it did. Certainly the cover art wasn’t a big sell!
Fast forward to today. Since that day in Lansdowne, PA in 1995 we’ve lived in Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, and now San Francisco. And the books have followed us, sadly undisturbed for 15 years, just waiting to be read.
Yesterday was the big day. I wanted a book. A real book. And there on the shelf was The Drifters. Based in 1968, it tells the story of 6 diverse teenagers finding themselves exotic locations from Spain to Africa finding the meaning of life. At page 150, something fluttered out of the book. It was a utility bill from Maine in 1972. This got me wondering about the man William Swadel in Orono, Maine who’d originally bought the book. By page 300 something else appeared. A folded up American History test. Apparently that Mr. Ahearn was a real toughy.
I know the world has moved on to digital and I’m there, too, but honestly, nothing can beat a real book. The wonder of where the book has been. The joy of imagining everyone who has read it before me. A shared experience – over decades and miles. Only fitting that the book that inspired this was The Drifters.