Whether you are new visitors, old friends or far-off admirers of Bookbarn, you will likely know that our humble barn is home to thousands upon thousands of books in all shapes, sizes and languages, spanning a range of centuries and covering a multitude of subjects. We pride ourselves on the variety we are able to offer our wonderful customers - even we staff members fall prey to the alluring shelves we work beside, and come out at closing time with piles of books in our arms. We're only human, after all...
Some of you might not know the sheer amount of donations we receive every day. On an average day, we might receive up to seven or eight donations, some brought by customers arriving with a van-full of heavy boxes, others a small Tesco bag of fiction to add to our shelves. We appreciate every donation we receive, regardless of the size, because in giving us your books you contribute to a chain of readership which runs between us and our customers and has been going strong for years and years. Often it is easy, in the flurry of getting those books out onto the shelves so you can find and fall in love with them, for us to forget the multiplicitous lives of the people who have brought them to us. The people who kindly bring their old stories to us have stories of their own, too, and we feel lucky to be even a small part of them.
Over the years, we have found all sorts of things hidden within the pages of books, as evidenced by our "Things Found in Books" display on the wall in our wonderful Full Stop Café. We have found the expected items like bookmarks, old photographs, plane and train tickets, and we have found the unexpected, too; among these, one individual's scribbled list of reasons not to leave her husband and a loving poem written by a soldier of the second world war for his mother. We've read hundreds of pages of letters belonging to many different periods, from the far past to the more recent present.
We would like to share some of these letters with you today, as a gift for being loyal customers and, perhaps, with a view to reconnecting you, if you have donated, with some of your own words and stories. As such, below (in order of our particular favourites of the moment), we have compiled a list of your letters, a collage of your words and your memories, in the hope that you will find the same level of inspiration and joy from reading them as we have.
Excerpt: Letter from a mother and father to their son away at war, dated June 15th, 1945
The first is perhaps the most touching of the list. The paper has been shared by mother and father, and contains nothing but sweet wishes of safety and declarations of love and concern. We were not able to find any other letters from this particular address, so we are unable to complete this story. For now, this letter exists all by itself, representative of a time in our history we are still very much connected to.
"My dear boy,
Just a line to let you know that we do well so far. But I am in trouble because we did not hear from you ever since the glorious day of your arrival. This day was the day of my life. Day by day, year in, year out I hoped, I feared, all the years round I was living, longing for this moment. Never since the day of your birth [have] I [felt] so happy. Never I have gone through a more marvellous day..."
Letter from an individual to her father, dated 23rd September, 1970.
Letter from one friend to another, dated 20th September, 2016.
Of course, some letters are touched by the realities of the historical, social and political contexts in which they were written. The letters below were written by different women and intended for different readers, but both contain commentary on the political moment they were born into, along with some snippets of the day-to-day lives of their writers.
"The radio is on. Trump is threatening to put an end to state sponsorship of planned parenthood + making threats about abortion, as though it needed anything more to put one right off him..."
"At least I am learning about taxation- I being a second-class citizen-- goods and chattel [and] all that. I object strongly. Wives should be assessed independently! I bet Mother agrees!"
Note from one friend to another, undated
We include this little note as a sweetener-- it's a great piece of advice in our eyes. Why not go on strike? We won't tell...
"Do have a happy day- leave the housework and the lawn mower alone. Good to go on strike now and again if only for one day."
Letter from a woman onboard a ship to her brother, undated
This final letter is my favourite so far. Much of the writings I trawled through were comprised of details about meeting up in the summer, observations on the weather or, in the case of little Giles back in '66, scores from the most recent school "ruggers" game. While going through these correspondences, I found this gem. This letter is dated 19th November, the year omitted, and is addressed to a Michael, from someone we have assumed to be his sister (the mention of "Mummy" being the basis of this assumption). The letter echoes with solitude; its writer appears to be travelling on a ship, with only themselves and their words as company. It is at once profound and commonplace, beautifully simple and simply beautiful, and as such quickly landed itself on our list of favourites.
"You wondered what Betty was saying to me in her letter, it was a very nice and most sensible one, and I was both surprised and pleased that she should have written so soon. I think a great deal about you both and often wonder how things are going, and if you fared well in London. Surely life is not to be lived by forgetting or by substitution, but by [remembrance] and transmutation. To forget is to kill; to [remember] is to recreate; and the art of life is the art of accordance with [its] changes."
We hope you enjoyed this week's post. We're futuristic folks here at the Bookbarn-- we love the ease of sending a text and having a reply within minutes. That being said, we of all people appreciate that when the written word, sent backwards and forwards in pen and ink, became the speed dial and the email chain, a little something was lost. But we mustn't grumble. After all: the art of life is the art of accordance with its changes.