Image copyright Tess Kincaid
She couldn’t read very well – she was only four - but she had loved the books in her grandfather’s study. Her grandfather had sets of books bound in blue and red and green leather with golden words on their spines and covers. Those were beautiful but the ones she liked best were the poetry books and the children’s stories. They were leather-bound, too, but the front covers were brightly coloured, either with pictures or intricate patterns.
She would take one from the shelf and finger the leather and the tooling. She liked the gilt-dusted fore-edges of the pages that made the closed book look like a gold bar. Carefully, she would open the cover and pause at the transparent tissue protecting the frontispiece. This was a moment of magic, seeing the illustration for the first time as though through light mist.Turning the thin paper over revealed the colours and details of the image and then her exploration would continue. Pages of beautiful fonts interspersed with colour plates and line drawings carried her through the book, allowing her to understand something of the tale. Often her grandfather would read a story to her and she would marvel and wonder if she would ever be able to decipher the text as he did. He would point to words he thought she might know and she would feel a rush of joy at reading them correctly. Then he would ruffle her hair and say, ‘Well done, little one.’
There were a handful of books that she was never allowed to touch on her own. Some had marbled fore-edges that created wonderful swirls, others were gauffered with delicately subtle designs or had beautiful paintings that could only be appreciated when the book was fanned open. Her grandfather told her they were very old and valuable.
She liked the deckle edges of some of the newer books in his collection, too. The pages of these books were stronger, sturdier, less easily damaged.
As she grew older she continued to appreciate books of all sorts. She loved the books in antiquarian shops but also appreciated well-produced modern volumes. Always the initial appeal arose from the first sight of a book – the dust cover, the font, the colour and then the print inside, clear and black and well-spaced on white or cream paper. The feel and smell of a book was important, too – the texture of the pages, the intoxicating scent of fresh paper and printer’s ink. On occasion, an attractive book would disappoint with an unpleasant odour and would be rejected by her.
When her grandfather died, her grief at his passing was assuaged by the library he left to her. In time, the volumes became warming remembrances of early childhood hours spent among his books.
And now she was implanting the same experiences in her young grandson’s memory.