For me, it wasn’t the reading, but the receiving of a acim that marked a new era in my life. In the summer of 2000, a boy I had just met while studying in Paris returned from a weekend excursion to London with a gift for me. No special occasion necessitated the gift; it was just meant as a thoughtful token. What I pulled from the wrinkled paper bag that served as gift wrap was an old edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s work.
The look on my face must have been one of genuine bewilderment, because despite having known me for only ten days, he had selected the perfect gift. Antique book? Check. Favorite author? Check. French connection? Check. (The book’s foreword was written by Chateaubriand.) In one of our few conversations up to that point I must have mentioned my budding old book collection, maybe as we strolled past the bookstores in Paris’ Latin Quarter. Armed with that tidbit he had taken the time during an otherwise wild and crazy London weekend to find a book for me, and in those first few seconds as I held the book in my hands, I realized a new era in my life had begun. I’d better hang on to this boy.
Fast forward a few years. The boy from Paris and I had been married a couple of years when I returned to our home and immediately noticed that our dog hadn’t rushed to the door to welcome me back. We had recently adopted Oscar from the local animal shelter, or “juvie” as my husband calls it, and though he was full-grown at the time, he was still at the tail end of his puppyhood. In other words he was chewing everything he could get his teeth on. Do you see where I’m going with this? I knew right away that Oscar was up to no good, and I could hear his nails clicking on the wood floors in the guest bedroom.
Here’s the part where I tell you that my old book collection lived in the guest bedroom. When I finally mustered the courage to peek, what I saw can most accurately be described as a ticker tape parade. It was as though the Tasmanian Devil and Cookie Monster had spun through the room, shredding, tearing, ripping, and salivating along the way. Oscar had been merciless. Eight-dollar pillows from Target sat unscathed on the bed, while specks of antique books hauled over the ocean from Paris were floating like snowflakes. Voltaire, Proust, Racine-gone, gone, gone. Despite having equal access to newer books of less sentimental value to me, he chose to subject my most treasured books to his razor sharp canines. Out of kindness, luck, or time constraints, Oscar had not shredded my precious Poe book, though the spine had torn and come loose as he gnawed on it. Doggie discipline was the last thing on my mind as I collapsed to the confetti-covered floor in tears. Oscar slipped out of the room with visions of juvie in his head, tail between his legs.
Now fast forward a few more years. The fragile books that had escaped total annihilation at Oscar’s paws are on the back seat of my car, and we’re on our way to meet Elizabeth Little in New Iberia. Elizabeth owns Bayou Bindery, a business I became aware of during the Louisiana Book Festival back in October. With mouth agape did I view the before and after photos on display at the festival, because I honestly didn’t know my tattered books could be restored. Those dramatic photos-think Extreme Book Makeover-made a believer out of me, and a few weeks later I was on LA 31, damaged books in tow.