I have a copy of a book called 1001 books you must read before you die. There have been several editions of this book so at various times different books have been put on the list and taken off again (and in the case of Memoirs of a Geisha I believe returned to the most recent edition of the list).
I have the 2010 edition but I also have an app on my iPad and a spreadsheet both of which list every single book that have ever appeared on an edition of the 1001 books you must read before you die list. I believe the total number of books is 1300 some odd. I’ve read about 133 of those.
I have no intention of reading every single book on the list (although the app tells me I could with time to spare based on my age and the average UK lifespan for a female). I do use it for inspiration for reading material and a way of finding new things to read. Because of the list I’ve discovered some authors I love – Haruki Murakami is one of those and I think Muriel Spark is shaping up to be another but I probably need to read another of hers (I’ve read two) to be definite.
Earlier this week I requested a bunch of titles from the library. All ones that are on the list. One of the ones I requested was The Wonderful O by James Thurber. I knew very little about the book. Mostly just it was one of the shortest books on the list (it’s 80 pages). I’d looked it up in the library catalogue before but every time I did it said it was in the store. But on Monday I figured it was worth requesting.
Thursday it was at my local library for me to collect along with some of my other requests. I’d assumed it was in the store because it wasn’t popular or because it’d been released so long ago (1958).
I enjoyed the story. It’s the perfect length for sitting and reading in one go on a lazy Friday afternoon after a busy week. It’s a really sweet kids one with gorgeous illustrations. The basic premise is an evil man takes over a town and bans the letter O because he doesn’t like it.
What really blew me away was the book itself. Oxfordshire library service doesn’t stamp the date books are due back in books anymore. That’s a no-no in this age of Internet and self service. And I think in a way that’s a shame.
But this still had its ticket of date stamps in it. I could tell looking at it, it was an old book.
But I didn’t expect was to see the first time it was issued was in 1958. It’s not a first edition but it is from the year of publication.
It’s got the old book feel. It’s got the old book smell that’s so nice. New books smell good but not like this. And it’s got pages so thick and sturdy I kept stopping to check page numbers because turning them I thought I must have turned more than one by accident. They don’t make books like that any more.
Being that the reservations are kept right by the desk, I got them to check them out for me. I thought they would say there was a problem and I couldn’t take it. When I was all checked out and she was handing them to me I expected her to tell me to be careful with it. She didn’t.
Part of me wanted to go “this is so old and so nice. It’s practically a piece of history and a work of art. I’m clearly not to be trusted with something like that. It’s too precious, what are you doing letting me take it?!”
Because never mind the fact that books been part of the library service since before I was born. It was actually first issued the year before my Mum was born.
That really blows me mind.
The cover and spine of the book. It’s an old fashioned, faded red hardback with a plain cover and no dust jacket
The inside title page of the book
The very first page inside with the ticket showing the stamped return by dates ranging between 1958, 1990 which appears to be the last time it was out and 1996 when it went to the store.
two inside pages with text and illustration (not every page has illustrations)