Just Imagine

I love boxed books. Singles, sets, whatever. Take a handsome book, put it in a slipcase, and it becomes a treasure. The book doesn’t even have to have been that handsome, really. I think of the boxed sets of Laura Ingalls Wilder paperbacks my grandchildren have all loved. So much more impressive than a bunch of loose copies. I look at my own book shelf and see a mundane copy of the Rubiayat, nothing special except that it’s in a charming olive green slipcase. It will never go to the Friends of the Library sale, thanks to the case.

So take a really special book, or set of books, box them up, and you’ve got a companion for life. My longtime favorite is a hefty two-volume boxed set of the Oxford English Dictionary, complete with its own magnifying glass for reading the insanely teensy type. It came as a premium for joining the Book of the Month Club back in ancient times, and I suffered through many mediocre novels to earn it.

And now, Weldon’s Practical Needlework. We issued the first six volumes as limited-edition onesies starting more than fifteen years ago, and they sold out fast. We’ve also issued bits of some of them as electronic books. But I can tell you—it’s not the same as the lovely, collector-worthy boxed set that’s on my desk right now.

If you’re a Book Person, and I’ll bet you are, you can imagine it: Midnight blue fabric, gold stamped on the hard-bound volumes and box. Creamy, touch-worthy paper. A faintly inky aroma. You open any one of them and it’s like visiting a great-great Victorian or Edwardian grandmother. The objects she crafted to beautify her home (it’s an acquired taste) and make her idle hours meaningful—they’re all there. The care she took over the smallest details of her life—a sweet little pouch to contain the combings from her hairbrush, the doilies to protect her plush chair cushions from her husband’s hair oil. The dainty crocheted or knitted or tatted underthings for her tiny daughter. The cleverly contrived balls and hobby horses for her sons. You could imagine a novel around the handwork of her daily life.

That’s what these books mean to me. I would not make the items portrayed (well, except for some of the knitted lace edgings and a clever sock or two). But I love to step back in time through their pages and just imagine.