Of Sophocles, Mutants, and Warhol
Aug 11, 2014 09:00AM
By David Williams
Hold on a sec. To describe them as mere “titles” doesn’t paint the whole picture. I’m now on a kick of haunting antique stores and used book shops in search of early '60s editions of works like The Snow Treasure (Marie McSwigan, 1942), a tale of heroism that finds Norwegian schoolchildren devising an ingenious scheme to keep a hidden stash of gold out of Nazi hands, and Daybreak: 2250 A.D. (Andre Norton, 1952), a post-apocalyptic adventure where the mutant-battling protagonist stumbles upon the ruins of a place that was apparently once called “New York City.”
The Snow Treasure is still in print and could be acquired with a few clicks of a mouse. But I don’t want just any copy of this classic. I want to read from the exact same edition with the exact same cover art that I so cherished as a young boy. It is difficult to put into words, but I think there is something magical—almost transcendent—about the reading experience when connecting to the past through vintage books.
A love of old books, avid readers already understand, can sometimes lead to the most unexpected of discoveries. Did you know, for example, that Andy Warhol began his career as an illustrator? He gained fame in the '50s for his ink drawings used in, of all things, shoe advertisements. And before executing his first soup can, the artist augmented his income by illustrating children’s books. He was also known for his cats. Lots and lots of cats, just like the ones from Warhol’s work shown on this page from “Sophocles and the Hyena” (Best in Children’s Books No. 33, 1960).
The grandkids don’t care about the provenance of the books we select, but their grandpa is treating the collection process as something akin to a sacred quest, a decidedly idiosyncratic one that speaks to the power of memory and the magic found in dusty, musty volumes of the printed word.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” begins an old adage. “The man who never reads lives only one.”
I want my grandsons, Easton (4) and Barrett (3), to live those thousand lives. Now with the addition of Andy Warhol, let’s make that 1,001.