Talk of rare books sent me hunting for my own first edition. Its spine was hard to spy on my bookshelf — its cover having been ripped off and taped back on long ago. I opened it and found a red Kool-Aid spot dotting the opening page and the word “SO” scratched in pencil at the end, evidence of my very first edit.
Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!, by Dr. Seuss, was printed the year I was born. It is the story of an obstinate gent who eschewed fanciful transportation until he was good and ready to leave on his own two, furry feet. It was one of the first books I read aloud, my entrée into the fun that could be had by shuffling 26 letters and rolling them around in your mouth.
My first edition will not be part of the Rose Rare Book Collection on display in Roesch Library Sept. 29 to Nov. 9.
But it doesn’t have to be rare to be priceless to us.
This fall, we’re asking readers to share the priceless works on their shelves by posting to social media and tagging photos with #shelfie and #UDrarebooks. What makes it priceless is different for each of us. Maybe our grandmother gave us the book, or it took a long hunt through a dusty bookstore to find it. Books can open new worlds, teach us about old ones, and make us cry or laugh.
Or blush. For a photo shoot, I held in my hands a 1492 printing of Canterbury Tales, part of the exhibit. Looking at looping letters and angular illustrations, I learned something of early printing techniques. It also reminded me of high school and a red-faced Mr. Parr revealing Chaucer’s bawdy humor to a bunch of giggling teenagers. I’ve carried that 1988 paperback with me through five moves.
Will students in professor Ulrike Schellhammer’s fall literature course have the same connection to their $8 paperback Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front)? In the 1928 galley proofs on display in Roesch Library, students will see Erich Remarque’s handwriting as he edited lines that Schellhammer says make it one of the most important anti-war pieces: “It is the attempt to tell the story about a generation that was destroyed by the war, even if it escaped its grenades.”
At the exhibit, we will marvel at the weight of the paper, or the signature of Abraham Lincoln, or how the breadth of works reveals the human progression of thought on our place in the cosmos. And then we will go home, look at our bookshelves and pull from them golden words whose meaning is richer thanks to all the experiences that shape our lives.