I love old books...
I really love old books...
I mean, I really, really love old books...
However, I am also a frugal (one might say cheap) person...
...so whenever I have the chance to visit the Sturbridge Recycling Center, I always take a peek into the Take It Or Leave It Shed. I don't know if TIOLIS is the official name of the magnificent treasure house, but that's what I call it. The building houses items that previous owners deem too good to throw in the trash. The shelves teem with dishes, small curio shelves, old toys, used sporting goods, and much more. My oldest son scored an old typewriter there years ago. He was fascinated by its archaic technology.
However, my favorite wall in the shed is the wall to the left. It is full of used books, mostly paperbacks, some hardcovers, and sometimes a rare treasure. When we first moved into our house and I decided to make our dining room a library, I looked for old red hardcovers because I thought it would add a punch of color. How quickly my tastes expanded!
Once I read a few of those old books, I fell in love with the eloquent writing from the last century compared to the modern prose of today's bestsellers. Now I bring home a few old books at least twice a month. On good days, I find a real treasure, as I did on my most recent visit to the shed.
Broken Barrier by Grace Helen Mowat
This little, green, nondescript book is only 182 pages long and was published in 1951 by University Press of New Brunswick. It was printed in Canada, which is unusual for the books I find in the shed. When I got home, I entered the title into my home library catalog (I use Librarything.com), and then did a quick Google search to see if I could find more information about the story. The top result was a link to the title on Amazon.com, with this story description:
Broken Barrier is a taut love story portraying two bookish people thrown together in the mid-twentieth century on Staten Island, New York. Lydia Allen, descendant of Loyalist refugees who left America in 1783 at the end of the American Revolution, struggles to preserve the rural lifestyle and handsome estate that her ancestors built in eighteenth-century New Brunswick. She goes to work for a rich young American as a housekeeper in order to make money to save her estate.
The concept interested me, and since the book seemed like a quick read, I sat down one afternoon to read it. Upon opening the cover, I found a wonderful surprise.
A true rarity. Not only is the book signed by the author, but she took the time to write a short (and clever) poem alongside. The inscription indicates that the book belonged to Mr. Frank Julian Stone, who, apprently, was Grace Helen Mowat's cousin. Now, I'd never heard of Ms. Mowat before this, but I became instantly interested in the person who's hand had penned the story and the inscription. It felt like touching history.
I decided to keep reading, however, and save the research into Ms. Mowat for another time. As I read, I began to notice a few editorial pencil marks here and there within the type, as if a beta reader had been asked to proof read the copy.
I found the characters charming and the story was pleasant to read. The idea of the main character being from a family of Loyalists exiled to New Brunswick interested me, as it seemed a unique concept. I have been looking for fictional works about the Acadians for a while now and have yet to find any titles to pique my interest. At least this story comes close.
As I reached the end of Chapter XII, I turned to page 83 and found this:
When I compare the handwriting to that of the inscription on the front page, it seems to look an awful lot like the same hand penned both.
I stopped reading for the day, and resisted the urge to flip through the rest of the pages to see if more treasures await. It feels a bit like Christmas, when you can't wait to open your presents, but you know that once you do, the anticipation will be lost, and the anticipation is half the fun.
I searched for information on Grace Helen Mowat and discovered that she was quite an important part of the St. Albans, New Brunswick community. She was the only child of Loyalist parents and was the founder of two arts and crafts clubs in St. Albans that remain active to this day. For more information on Ms. Mowat, click here.
Collect old books and read slowly
I will continue to read Broken Barriers slowly and with absolute joy, savoring every word, because soon I will finish it and the surprise treasures within will all be uncovered.
But I have many more old books with treasures on my library shelves. Perhaps someday soon I will share those with you, too.
I write novels and poetry and this blog.