A relative of mine recently gave me an old book to read. This is a really old book. The front of the book has an inscription of the original owner’s name and the notation “Xmas 1897″.
The book is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. I’m looking forward to reading it because it’s the story of Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and the others of the Camelot story. I’ve been to British sites associated with Arthurian legends such as Tintagel in North Cornwall (see more of its spectacular scenery here) and Glastonbury, so it’s going to be fun to imagine it all against the backdrop of that wonderful British scenery.
I love browsing through old books like this one and it looks like the original publisher went to a lot of care when the book was made. There are sheets of transparent, tissue-thin paper protecting the illustrations, although I’m not sure why. Maybe the paper is to prevent the ink in the illustration from rubbing off onto other printed pages? That’s a mystery.
The top of the book has gilded edges, and I wonder about that feature, too. Were the sides and bottom of each page gilded originally and did the book’s readers cause the gilding to be worn off throughout the years since the book was published 116 years ago?
But my favorite features are this book’s smell and its cover. Tennyson’s book has that marvelous, evocative “old paper” smell that modern e-readers just can’t duplicate. (Sorry, Kindle and Nook devotees.)
The floral cover is also beautiful (see photo, below). It’s faded with time but still attractive. I wonder what it looked like in 1897, when the colors were fresh and vibrant?
It’s going to be an entertaining read, I think, even if I have to enlist Sparknotes or Wikipedia to figure out what the heck’s going on sometimes. We’ll see.