Throughout my life I’ve chased down old, obscure books on a variety of topics relevant to bushcraft. Often it was like detective work, finding references to something rare then tracking them down with the help of librarians and book dealers. When the internet came along it changed all that, making it easy to research and search for rare books. Now ebook readers are changing it all again.
This morning I sat with a cup of coffee and my copy of “Primitive Travel And Transportation” by Otis Tufton Mason. Printed in 1896, my copy shows it’s age with yellow pages, a missing cover, and a spine that’s 85 percent gone. I searched for a copy of this amazing book for two years before finding one, and have learned a great deal from reading it several times. Now you can get it for free, instantly. There are many old books in my library that tell a similar story; old, obscure and long out of print, now available instantly for free.
I wonder if these resources will be valued by younger generations who’ve never had to search for them and have always had access with the click of a mouse. I hope so.
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From my favourite line from the Junior Maine Guides Handbook – “cheaply won is cheaply held” and I only picked that line up on my hundredth leaf through the pages. I think us bushcraft types tend to veer towards kinesthetic learning – personally I need to hold a book to really metaphorically get to grips with it, perhaps even the smell of a musty old tome, that has visited many bookshelves over it hundred plus years, helps to get those little grey cells motoring and synapses sparking. Bushcrafters are also compulsive collectors and hoarders, so my feeling is the digital tables, ipad, kindle is the death of the absorbed read – that pdf will just tick the ‘I’ve got that one’ box and get slung in a soulless Microsoft folder, never to be pored over, cherished and absorbed? I dunno…anyone else?
I agree that old books are moving from tangible items with histories to simply cataloged information, and that likely means the “death of the absorbed read” (great line). I’m wondering if because information is so easily attainable these days, is it respected less? I guess the quote from the Junior Maine Guides Handbook gives me my answer.
Come on…you must remember the excitement when that manilla jiffybag (filled with that weird fiberous stuff, pre bubblewrap) landed on your doorstep, containing ‘the grail’. To qualifiy for ownership of ‘the grail’ you had to surreptitiously gain the title, author and ISBN from someones trophy bookshelf, then get the woman in your local bookshop to type the ISBN into a computer the size of a small car and tut. Wait for the perscribed 28 days and then by an act of god it would arrive! That book was worth reading…
These days, cruise a forum see what’s being talked about, whack it into Amazon, hit ‘next day delivery’ and low..some glossy book turns up to be flicked through and deposited on the shelf next to all the other trophy ‘must haves’. Jeezs…I’m getting cynical in my old age or what!
What a great, vivid description of back in the day! I remember that sequence of events well. I miss it. I still get the excitement to some degree when searching for some long out of print book, but there have only been a handfull that have taken over a year to find.
I’m comforted that you share my cynicism about modern life. I look forward to our next meeting when we can discuss it in detail.