Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Death may come for the archbishop, but old books live on

Just finished reading Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. For some reason, I have a hardcover copy of the book's 23rd printing in 1930 by Alfred A. Knopf. I must have picked it up at a garage sale or possibly the annual library book sale. I have it stashed in my old book shelf with my other old books, such as For Men Only, a "Books in Wartime" collection of short stories from 1944 with an introduction by James M. Cain; a 1930 Nancy Drew novel, The Mystery at the Lilac Inn; and Marching Through Georgia, an 1895 account of Sherman's March through the South during the Civil War. None of them are collectible, as far as I know. Most are missing their jackets, and some appear to have been gnawed on my the family dog or maybe a bibliophile with a taste for old book glue.

Death Comes for the Archbishop smells like an old book. 80-year-old paper has a distinctive smell. Musty, earthy, blessed. The book's in good shape. It's lived in the Rocky Mountain West for most of its life. In 1943, it was owned by Besse Abbott Houghton. Her name in very nice script is written on the inside front cover. On the bottom left of that page, is a sticker for Stationery Books & Gifts, J.F. Collins, Inc., Santa Fe, N.M. Santa Fe, of course, is the site of most of the action in Archbishop. 

The book has a note at the end about the history of the typeface: "Old Style No. 31 composed on a page gives a subdued color and even texture which makes it easily and comfortably read." The typeface originated in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 1870s. The book was written by a U.S. author, born in Virginia but is best known for her Nebraska roots. The book was manufactured in the U.S., "set up, electrotyped, printed and bound by the Plimpton Press, Norwood, Mass. Paper made by W.C. Hamilton & Sons, Miquon, Penn."

And the book's innards? Fine writing by Willa Cather. Not sure why she turned to the Catholic history of New Mexico after spending most of her professional life writing about the Scandinavian Protestants of western Nebraska. She respects her subjects and writes with heart and soul, which is what I expect from a Cather book. The author traveled often to Santa Fe, visiting fellow authors Witter Bynner and D.H. Lawrence and exploring area history. These days, this book by Red Cloud, Nebraska's favorite daughter, is one of the best known novels about Santa Fe. There's even a Willa Cather Room at the city's Inn of the Turquoise Bear. I'd like to stay in that room. I'm a literary tourist. Show me a hotel room named for an author and I'd like to stay in it.

Time to find another book. Old or new, it doesn't matter.

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