Monday Memories: Hand-Me-Down Paperbacks


This is the eleventh of my Monday Memories series of posts. In these posts, I pull a book off my shelf, somewhat randomly, and tell you a bit about it. It's not a review of the book so much as a memory of the book, a bit about what might have been going on in my life when I read it, and my thoughts on who might like this book. 

The Books (Clockwise from top left)

  • Last Stand at Papago Wells, by Louis L'Amour. Copyright 1957. A Fawcett Gold Medal Book. This edition from early 1970s. 
  • Very Cold for May, by William P. McGivern. Copyright 1950. A Pocket Book Mystery. Published by Pocket Books April 1951.
  • Armchair in Hell, by Henry Kane. Copyright 1948.A Dell Book, reprinted by arrangement with Simon and Shuster, Inc. This edition likely from the early 1950s.
  • The D.A. Holds a Candle, by Erle Stanley Gardner. Copyright 1938. A Genuine Pocket Book. Published by arrangement with William Morrow and Company. This edition - Third Printing, June 1945.
  • Beyond the Dark, by Kieran Abbey. Copyright 1944. A Dell Book. Reprinted by arrangement with Charles Scribner's Sons. This edition likely 1945-ish.
  • Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, credited to Hitchcock and based on the play by Patrick Hamilton. Copyright 1948 by Transatlantic Pictures Corporation. A Dell Book. This edition likely 1948 - the year the movie by the same name ran in theaters.
  • My Life and Hard Times, by James Thurber. Copyright 1933. Bantam Books, New York. This edition printed in 1947.
  • The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. Copyright 1939. A Bantom Book, published by arrangement with The Viking Press. This edition - second printing, January 1946.
  • The Gentleman in the Parlour, by W. Somerset Maugham. Copyright 1929, 1930 and 1947. An Avon Book. This edition likely 1947.
  • Ride the Dark Trail, by Louis L'Amour. Copyright 1972. A Bantam Book. This edition published June 1972.

Why These Books?

Last week in my Monday Memories I made the case that I am agnostic as to the format of the books I read, while also mentioning that I do still love paper books. Well, I have to admit that I'm one of those people who, once they have a physical book on their shelf, find it very hard to part with it. Yes, I'm a book hoarder, as I think many reading this are too. 

These books are my evidence that I come from a line of such hoarders. They are all hand-me-down books. I have many hand-me-down books like these, from both sides of the family and from sibling's in-laws too. In the case of these particular books they came from my two grandmothers and a great-aunt. These are books that these women read and then put on their shelves. It is my good fortune that when they died, I was identified as the book lover in the family who these books came to.  

Most often when a book loving elder passed away, I would get a call and was asked if I wanted any of the books of the dearly departed. To which I always replied "Yes, all of them." Sometimes there were books of sentimental value that went to other members of the family. But most of my family members saw no value in the "dusty old books" cluttering up the shelves and were happy that I took them away.  

What Are These Books About?

Half of these books are murder mysteries - the original "pulp fiction". These came from my hale and hearty great aunt, a woman ahead of her time, who ran her own business and clearly loved a good mystery. The Thurber book and, I believe, the Maugham book came from my Dad's mother. I read the Thurber book at her house when I spent a weekend there as a kid, and she had a couple of Zane Grey hardcovers which she lent me to read too. Those are also now on my shelf. 

The L'Amour westerns come from my grandmother on my Mom's side.  She loved westerns and used to loan them to me when she was done reading them. She also was a big fan of James Michener's fat historical novels and loved Herman Wouk's The Winds of War. I eventually inherited those and loved them as well.

I am not sure now who originally had the Steinbeck book, though I suspect it may have been my great-aunt.

What Do These Books Mean To Me?

My usual question at this point - what was going on in my life when I read this (these) book(s) - doesn't make much sense for this week. Yes, I have read the L'Amour books and the Thurber book.  The Steinbeck and Gardner books I've read, though not these copies. But these were all at different points in my life. And, the other books I haven't read.

What does make sense to talk about is what these books mean to me. Every paper book is not just a book, it's a sheaf of memories as well, at least for this reader. I think that's why I find it so hard to part with them. Looking at these books reminds me of the women to whom they once belonged, and what those ladies mean to me. They also remind me (the ones I've read) of my own interactions with those books. 

And, they are also each a reminder of their time. By that I mean that each one tells us something about the time in which it was printed. The WWII era books tell that story very clearly. Here is the inside cover of The D.A. Holds a Candle, emphasizing the publisher's commitment to wartime rationing:

Here is the wording from the bottom of the second inside page of Beyond the Dark, encouraging readers to pass books on to those serving in the war:

Which brings me to my last point - I am sure that at least some of these books were hand-me-downs to the person who then handed them down to me. Especially the books from the '30s and '40s - hard times for many, and a time when passing books from one pair of hands to another was certainly not uncommon, especially within the family.

Why Would Someone Like These Books?

Well, as reflections of their time, and of course in their content, each of these books has stories to tell. For old paperbacks like these, the stories their covers and flyleaves tell are worth reading. You would need to take great care to actually read the content of some of these copies though - the glue that binds them has hardened to the point that you'd risk the books falling apart.  If you are interested in any of these titles, some of them are available in more recent editions, and if you search Amazon or Open Library you may find a copy that you can read without risk.

So that's my "Monday Memories" book post for this week. Are you a book hoarder? What hand-me-down books in your collection hold special meaning for you? Leave a comment below.