One of my favorite movie scenes is in The Day After Tomorrow: A super storm is hitting New York, temperatures are dropping, and city refugees are holed up in the Manhattan branch of the New York Public Library. Their best bet for survival is to set fires and huddle together in a single room of the massive building. What materials you reckon they use for setting those life saving fires? Yeah.
One librarian, Elsa, notices that the other, Jeremy, is holding tightly to an old bible. Snidely, she asks, “You think God’s gonna save you?” Equally snidely he replies that he doesn’t believe in God. This book is a Gutenberg Bible. He glares at the boys steadily throwing books into the fire and says: I’m protecting it. This Bible is the first book ever printed. It represents the dawn of the Age of Reason. As far as I’m concerned, the written word is mankind’s greatest achievement. You can laugh. But if Western civilization is finished, I’m gonna save at least one little piece of it.
An obscure scene, perhaps, but I think it absolutely profound.
This past weekend I did a rare thing. I did what my grandmother would have referred to as lollygagging, which is ignoring all adult responsibilities and looming chores to do something entirely useless. It made for a great Saturday afternoon.
I went to find a tiny little bookshop Google insisted exists just a few blocks from my own neighborhood that I must have driven by a thousand times but never saw. That bookshop, according to Google, has a vintage section. Google was correct on both counts.
Look at what I found:
A first edition, copyright 1916. I got it for $1.
This is now the oldest book in my collection. Admittedly, upon this discovery I wasn’t as over the moon as the day I stumbled across the 1950 Random House reprint of Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman ($4), but only because I’m unfamiliar with Augustus Strong. I assumed that such a title could only be composed by an academic. Turns out that I assumed correctly. Other than a tiny bit of info on the author’s motivation for writing it, thus far, all I know about the book is that it’s found on seminary curricula lists and newer editions sell for $50-$70 online.
Do you have an old book fetish? Shall we discuss the relevance of spirituality/religion so present in poetic works? Or, shall we discuss the Age of Reason and all its near death experiences?