Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Books in active service

I'm sure that most of you have a natural history themed library of books, barging those of your partner or kids out of the way to be in full view for the admiring hoardes to inspect. Sod the gardening and cookery books, make way for the latest New Naturalist!! Send the P D James collection into the cupboard, I want all of my south American field guides on show (in descending order of height, spines all aligned...)

Do you stand back and admire them? Do you proudly look on as another new tome shines out from the others, promising hours of dipping into? Do you also recognise those that are showing their age or are in distress due to active service?

My New Naturalist volume on British Thrushes that I purchased on publication in the late 1970s has faded to a ghost image of its original state. The reds are now a pale apricot and the thrush illustration is a vague sketch made in a see-through pencil as opposed to the robust blackness that the artist originally drew. The Birds of Pakistan (Vol 1) by Roberts looks as though it has been left out in the sun for the past twenty years - and it certainly hasn't been to Pakistan!

I was amused to see that Skev's latest blog header shows a line-up of some of his lepidoptera books, including volume 1-7 of The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland. Just like mine, volumes 1 and 2 have discoloured, and had he volumes 9 and 10 on show I bet they would appear like mine, looking as if they had been present in a room full of cigar smokers over the twenty odd years since they have been published. My early Poysers from the mid-seventies are more dirty-buff than the white they used to be.

My first edition Skinner is the dirtiest book I own. Because it has been used 'in the field' a combination of rain, grass, splattered moths and compromised fingers have seen that a second layer coats not just the cover and spine but most of the inside pages as well. There are several species attached to the plate on which they are depicted... Top prize, however, goes to my copy of The Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Bali and Java by Mackinnon and Phillips that came with me to Malaysia in 1994. On a slippery descent from the top of Bukkit Teresek in Taman Nagara, I fell heavily, scattering the contents of my rucksack across the muddy floor. The said guide came off really badly, coated in mud and sending me into mourning - it was brand new and was nursed like a child owing to its importance as an identification aid. After careful cleaning it served its purpose for the rest of the trip and to this day has a brown caste, that I now consider to be a badge of honour won whilst on active service.

Birds of Surrey (Wheatley) arrived with a hole the size of a ten-pence piece on the back dust jacket; Lars Jonssons original mini-guide to the Mediterranean (not the combined field guide) with ripped cover due to lazy picking up of book in one hand; blood from a small cut on my ear finding its way onto Skinner (second edition); New Naturalist 'Wild Flowers of Chalk and Limestone' jacket totally gone AWOL - I could go on.

They might just be books, but they all have their own tales beyond those that may be inside them.

1 comment:

Skev said...

Ha - thanks for noticing my header Steve. I cropped the image so that the gross damage to the top edge of the dust jacket on my Skinner wasn't on show (a product of the lazy way I drag it out from the shelf).

My most damaged book is actually the Razowski tortrix book in the line up, but not due to the typical external problems or mis-handling. Basically the binding is complete pants and the contents are falling out of the cover.