Category Archives: Book Hunting

Well, Look What We Have Here!

My wife’s been gone this past week, visiting family back in Wisconsin. So, what’s an old book junkie going to do to pass the time but go book hunting at his favorite thrift stores and library book sales? Not too predictable, am I?

I won’t go into all the books I came up with, but I will brag about my favorite find of the week. Resting inconspicuously on the bottom shelf of the religion section at the Prescott Public Library was the complete two-volume set titled “The Gifts of the Child Christ: Fairy Tales and Stories for The Childlike,” by George Mac Donald, edited by Glenn Edward Sadler. It’s a collection of the shorter fairy tales and stories by this famous author who influenced such writers as C.S.Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. It was originally published in 1973 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and the two-volume set cost $7.95 at the time. Can you imagine that? I’d hate to see what it would cost today!

I’d post a photo, but my wife has the camera. I’ll try to get a pic up here soon.


Posted by on September 7, 2014 in Authors, Book Hunting, Libraries, Old Books


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Supercalifragilistic . . . Um . . . Oh, To Heck With It!

I remember the day I went from being a book lover to an actual reader. No, I don’t remember the exact day or date, just the experience. It was Mary Poppins Bookson a weekend and I was at my grandparents’ house in Santa Ana, California. I was sitting in my grandfather’s big, comfy chair totally absorbed in a beautiful, hard bound edition of the complete Mary Poppins stories by P.L. Travers. I sat in that chair for hours and devoured page after page about that magical nanny. It was the first large hardback book I ever read all the way through and, being only 9 or 10 years old at the time, I was quite proud of myself.

I bring this up because the other day at my favorite thrift store I came across three Mary Poppins books, in paperback, conveniently banded together. I think I paid fifty cents for all three. It’s been over 40 years since I read Mary Poppins, and with the movie “Saving Mr. Banks” (you DO know who Mr. Banks is, don’t you?) out on DVD now, I’m really looking forward to revisiting these stories.

By the way, P.L. Travers wasn’t your run of the mill children’s writer. She was what you might call an intellectual adventuress (among other things). She had a fascination with the world’s mythologies and traveled extensively. ┬áBack in the 80’s she was a regular contributor to the quarterly publication Parabola, which explored various myths and legends and their effects on culture and religion. Though she is no longer with us, she definitely left her own mark on our culture.

Keep your eyes on the East Wind!



Posted by on May 12, 2014 in Book Hunting, Children's Books, Favorite Books


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Big Classic on the American Prairie

Little House BooksOnce upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs

The great, dark trees of the Big Woods stood all around the house, and beyond them were other trees and beyond them were more trees. As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week, or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses. There were no roads.There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them.

I love this opening. Ernest Hemingway would love this opening. Heck, Hemingway would love this book. For all I know he may have read it. If he did, I’m sure he smiled.

The above sentences introduce the reader to a series of true American classics, the “Little House” series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. That’s right, “Little House on the Prairie” was not a single book but the second in a series of nine books about growing up in the American pioneer days. More than just books for young people, these books are considered by many to be valuable records of an important time in our nation’s history.

I’ve wanted to read these books for many years but put off starting until I had all nine volumes. Then a couple of weeks or so back, while browsing around one of our favorite thrift stores, I came across the reason I frequent such places. Sitting on a shelf in the children’s book section was a brand new boxed set of all nine “Little House” books put out by Scholastic Inc. I mean the paperback spines weren’t even creased! The price: $3.99. After I put my eyes back in my skull, I grabbed the set and hugged it to my chest.

So far I’ve read the first two books: “Little House in the Big Woods” and “Little House on the Prairie.” In straightforward, efficient prose, Laura tells the story of what it was like growing up in the late 1800s with her Ma and Pa and sisters, Mary and Baby Carrie. These books aren’t about plotting and characterization but rather they are the treasured recollections of a young girl plainly told. The chapters are connected episodes explaining what living on the nation’s frontier was like, including descriptions of the many skills they possessed and the labors they performed to get through the seasons, especially the long winters.

And, yes, you do get to know the characters, but they are revealed by their actions and responses to the situations they find themselves in. Very much like the way one comes to know a person in everyday life. Pa is confident in his abilities, possesses a joy for life and a deep love of his family. And he’s pretty good with a fiddle too. Ma is more subdued, an excellent cook, gardener, seamstress, and calm as a rock in the face of trials and unexpected encounters with bears. Mary, the older sister, is the good little girl, never raising a fuss. Of course, Laura is the one who’s curious about everything and willing to challenge Ma and Pa’s boundaries to find out what’s going on. And Baby Carrie is . . . well, a baby.

Though the chapters are episodic, they aren’t disjointed. The thread of a frontier life remembered connects them to each other and to the reader in a way that mere fiction seldom accomplishes. As I read each chapter, the more I kept in mind that these were Laura’s actual memories the more affecting her descriptions became. Whether because of encounters with Indians, prairie fires racing toward the house, the dangers of digging a well or of dealing with wolves or bears, one comes to realize that each day was truly an adventure for these brave families who chose to move westward. Even something seemingly as simple as Pa going to town could be cause for anxiety:

Before dawn, Pa went away. When Laura and Mary woke, he was gone and everything was empty and lonely. It was not as though Pa had only gone hunting. He was going to town, and he would not be back for four long days.

The simplicity and directness of Laura’s words convey a sense of vulnerability that’s hard to match.

I’ll be starting the third book, “Farmer Boy,” soon and I’ll do a review of that and a few more as I read them. But do yourself a favor and get these books and read them. Read them for yourself and to your children. They are true American classics and remind us of how the American character was formed and what it is that makes this country and its people something special. It is so important that we keep these memories alive, both for ourselves and, even more so, for our young.



Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Book Hunting, Book Review, Children's Books, History


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A Disappointing Book That Will Hang on My Wall

The other day while my wife and I were shopping in one of our favorite thrift stores, I found what looked to be a Knights in Combatnifty little book. Titled “The Little Book of the Holy Grail,” (Barnes & Noble/The Book Laboratory, 2004), it purported to give some historical background to the grail legends and even “retells two of the most famous Grail stories.” It was also loaded with marvelous Medieval art related to the grail. Oh, yes. I bought it.


Disappointing could be taken as an understatement here. Let’s start with the writing. The author, whose name will not be mentioned as a courtesy, is supposedly an attorney with a Master’s degree in Theology. They should have taken a composition class or two.

The first section of the book, about the history of the grail legends, is pedestrian at best. It gets the facts across and that’s it. The recounting of the grail stories is where the eyes glaze over. Honestly, I’ve read better fifth grade book reports. I’d quote it but I want you to finish this post.

For the big finish, the final section of the book is called “Reclaiming the Feminine Aspect of Christianity.” Here the author tries to make Dan Brown look like a scholar by going over the same “was Jesus really married to Mary Magdalene?” road that’s been traveled to death. There’s even a chapter here titled “The Conspiracy Continues?” Honest.

The only saving grace for this book are the beautiful reproductions of grail-themed art. Yet even here, the book falls short. None of the artwork is identified by artist or title. The only thing the reader is given is a list of acknowledgements as to the sources of the paintings and drawings. Frustrating.

I was going to donate this book to another thrift store, but then I had an idea. I have purchased several nice wooden frames at another thrift store we frequent and I plan to use a very sharp utility knife to extricate my favorite pictures and place them in the frames. I’m still trying to decide where I will hang them, but I know they’ll look great wherever they wind up.

Nice save, if I say so myself.


Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Book Hunting, Book Review, History


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The History of the American Character

I have always loved American folklore. Thank goodness for Disney’s animated renderings of Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill IllustrationPecos Bill, the Uncle Remus stories and others. These tales, and my father’s guidance, led me further into my love of books and words. But there’s something else these wonderful “tall tales” did for me; they helped me to better understand, and to love, this country and its people.

These thoughts surfaced again in my mind last week after I came across a copy of “Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time,” by James Cloyd Bowman (The New York Review Children’s Collection). Originally published in 1937, this book is a compilation of tales about the mythical, larger-than-life cowboy arranged to form an episodic novel. The bold, eye-catching illustrations by Laura Bannon, many in bright, primary colors, add much to the overall feel of the stories.

As Bowman writes in his introduction:

These adventures of Pecos Bill constitute a part of the Saga of the Cowboy. They are collected from the annals of the campfire and the roundup. They preserve the glory of the days when men were men, and when imagination and wonder rode hand in hand to conquest and to undying fame.

These tales are vital examples of the broad humor of America that has been long in the making. The bigness of the virgin frontier expanded the imagination of the first settlers, and the hardness of the life developed their self-reliance.

It makes me think that in these times when so few of America’s youth understand what being an American is about, maybe the best thing to do is re-introduce our “tall tales” to a new generation.

It should couldn’t hurt!


Posted by on June 9, 2013 in Book Hunting, Ideas, Old Books


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Remember Me?

Westminster Abbey, West Door, Four of the ten ...

Westminster Abbey, West Door, Four of the ten 20th Century- Mother Elizabeth of Russia, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello, folks.

Let me first apologize for my absence the past two weeks or so. Life has a way of throwing things at you and you have to deal with them whether you want to or not. The objects thrown this time had to do with the business my wife and I own. It wasn’t fun but we got through it.

Anyway, just because we had to deal with business emergencies didn’t mean I stopped my book-hunting habits! A junkie’s a junkie after all. And thanks to the Prescott DAV Thrift Store, I came up with some finds this past week.

My favorite is “The Harper Collins Book of Prayers: A Treasury of Prayers Through the Ages,” compiled by Robert Van de Weyer (Castle Books, 1997.) At just over 400 pages, it has an abundance of prayers, poetry and meditations. Unlike many other prayer collections, this one is arranged by author rather than topic, which I really appreciate. Such spiritual luminaries as St. Augustine, Karl Barth, Henri Nouwen, Ignatius of Loyola, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Origen are included. There are even sections with Aztec, Sioux and Kalahari Bushmen prayers. Amazingly beautiful words here.

I also found two wonderful books on church history which are aimed at younger audiences. “The Church of Our Fathers” by Roland H. Blainton (The Westminster Press, 1950) and “I Will Build My Church” by Amy Morris Lillie (The Westminster Press, 1950) look to be for the 8 to 12 year old age range and have great illustrations, especially “Church of Our Fathers.” Thumbing through these books, I was reminded that much of the Church’s history is a grand tale of adventure. Today’s Church should be telling these stories to its young members. Talk about exciting and inspiring!

To complete the historical theme, I picked up a copy of Paul Johnson’s “A History of the American People,” (HarperPerrenial, 1999.) Johnson is a British historian who writes about America out of admiration rather than contempt, a refreshing change. His dedication explains his view:

This book is dedicated to the people of America – strong, outspoken, intense in their convictions, sometimes wrong-headed but always generous and brave, with a passion for justice no nation has ever matched.

If only more schools would use this as a textbook instead of the one by, say, Howard Zinn.

That’s all for now, folks. Again, sorry for not being more consistent but life is what it is. I’ll try to be better. In the meantime, keep reading!

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Posted by on May 24, 2013 in Book Hunting


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Old School Book Report

Jr High Literature Book TwoLast week my wife and I happened by an estate sale near our house, Now really, who can resist those? We sure didn’t. Unfortunately, it was the last day of the sale and much of the really good stuff (as far as my wife was concerned) was already gone or paid for. Luckily for Old Book Junkies like me, a lot of treasures are overlooked by the non-book lovers. And I thank them for their ignorance!

I snapped up two books this time, neither of which is particularly valuable except for the interest I have in their subjects. The first is an old literature textbook called, fittingly enough, “Junior High School Literature, Book Two,” (Scott, Foresman and Company, 1928.) I love thumbing through old textbooks to get a feel for what was being taught in our past and how. This literature book offered a nice view into what was being taught in our public schools 85 years ago.

The book was divided into four parts: The World of Nature, The World of Adventure, Freedom and Democracy and Literature and Life in the Homeland. Four parts, and two of them dedicated to the life and philosophy of the United States. How many of today’s textbooks could claim that?

Selections include “The American Boy” by Theodore Roosevelt, an explanation of the American experiment by Daniel Webster, an excerpt from George Washington’s farewell address, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry W. Longfellow and Walt Whitman’s “Pioneers! O Pioneers!”

The other volume was Albert Schweitzer’s autobiography, “Out of My Life and Thought,” (Henry Holt and Schweitzer BiographyCompany, 1949.) One of the last century’s most brilliant men, Schweitzer was a theologian, philosopher, musician and doctor. He was well known for his book “Quest of the Historical Jesus” and other volumes on theology. At 274 pages, it should be a crisp read.

That’s all for now, folks. Have a great week!


Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Book Hunting


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