Libraries speak volumes. That’s my motto. I believe that even one’s first books can reveal something about their collector. Let me rephrase that. I believe that even the first books one recollects can be revealing of their collector. Or their re-collector–people such as LW, who trawl flea markets, book fairs, and used book stores in search of lost books from their childhood. That’s why I’m looking back at some of LW’s oldest remembered books: to search for themes and patterns that may have been emerging even before she could read.
And so in my mind’s eye I return to the shelves of my first bookcase (brown, scuffed) where I see the foiled spines of LW’s Little Golden Books stacked side-by-side, like the silver-gold trees of a fairy tale forest.
In reality, of course, my books were seldom so neatly arranged, or even shelved. And for the record, I would have preferred entering my current karmic go-round with a set of beautifully bound children’s classics in a white book case with beveled windows and a matching white rocker shaped like a duck. This was not to be.
(Shown below: a picture of a white horse in a store window. Because I don’t have a picture of a white duck.)
LW loved her Little Golden Books. They were cheap books, to be sure, typically impulse purchases she forced upon one of her harried parents while in line at the supermarket, drugstore, or five and dime. Cheap but Golden. The word Golden, reinforced by the books’ shiny spines, suggested treasures within, thus creating an alluring metaphor that, for LW, would expand to include all books.
No part of a Little Golden Book missed her scrutiny. She pored over their endpapers like a Talmudic scholar. She perused the back cover. She peeled back the foil spine, but not too much. She left finger smudges in the margins. She gnawed the cardboard corners.
But let me return to those endpapers, specifically the inside of the front cover. Open a Little Golden Book and you see a nameplate in the shape of another open book, hinting at stories within stories, treasures within treasures. (In my favorite edition, this inscription area is surrounded by a halo of alphabet letters, a discussion of which I will save for my dissertation on Kabbalistic references in the mid-20th century soups and cereals of childhood.)
Surrounding the nameplate, characters from other Golden books are displayed. These characters are not children, although children often appear in these books. Rather, they are typically either anthropomorphized animals (duck, goose, rabbit, bear, dog, cat, elephant, etc.) or some kind of vehicle (taxi, train, tugboat). Most appear in tandem with a book, hinting at a book’s role as an agent for metamorphosis or transport.
Each character is suspended in a space of its own in a common field. Leafy vines sporting tiny berries and the words Little Golden Books written in vine-like script weave throughout this field, connecting the characters into a kind of family tree, a Little Golden Book tree.
No doubt this was done as a sales pitch: if one likes this book, one might like these others. But LW saw each of these images as portals into other worlds that, even without the books they represented, she might be able to work out their stories for herself.
I believe her fascination with the array of images displayed on Golden Book endpapers foreshadowed her latter-day interests in collage, scrapbooks, object books, portrait galleries, yearbooks, genealogy, encyclopedia, and museums. And, of course, libraries. (And even some blogs.)
In future entries I will explore some specific Little Golden Books that, for one reason or another, will always hold a permanent place in this library in one form or another.