old book

This 1915 first edition of “The Lost Prince” by Frances Hodgson Burnett was rediscovered in an attic bookcase.

Staying home for weeks on end can get tiresome. Even surrounded by a husband and two grown kids, one still longs to get out and about and interact with others. How nice it would be to finally meet our new granddaughter, enjoy dinner with friends at a restaurant or a sip a beer at a local brewery.

Until those things are allowed, however, we sit at home. We’ve scrubbed the bathrooms, cleaned the bedrooms, rearranged the furniture — and even repainted the dining room. The yard and garden look respectable. We’ve Skyped and FaceTimed and Zoomed with our kids and families to celebrate births, graduations, a commissioning and other life events. We’ve tried to stay busy and to remain positive and keep ennui at bay. But some days, it seemed the lethargy was winning.

And then it happened. Convinced there was “nothing” to read, one day we decided to take stock of just how many books are in this house. We knew there were a lot. My husband and I both are readers and our five kids read. But we still were amazed to count 981 books in bedrooms, the living room, the TV room and tucked out of sight on wall-length attic shelves.

During the count, we rediscovered old favorites, great classics, some century-old reads and a myriad of topics for every taste range. And it is fascinating to note just how many fiction books have been written about plagues that threatened to destroy civilization. Michael Crichton’s “Andromeda Strain” was written in 1969 but still is a nail-biter. Stephen King’s 1978 post-apocalyptic “The Stand” is a great story of good vs. evil, but at 1,320 pages, it might take the entire quarantine to finish. Geraldine Brooks’ “Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague,” written in 2002, is especially timely. Set in 17th century England, it’s the story of a village that quarantines itself for a year to stop the plague’s spread. And Ken Follett’s “Whiteout” (2005) is as engrossing as any of his books. One other book, “Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” (1999) by Jared Diamond isn’t fiction and it isn’t a “fun” read, but it’s a wealth of information.

During the big count, noting the subjects and types of books in each room was fascinating. Our daughters’ old bookshelves still are filled with the beloved “Harry Potter” series and several series of those vampire love stories and other fantasy types that were so popular with teens a few years back. The shelves nearest to my husband’s side of the bed are overflowing with literally dozens of novels from Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” series. And in the living room are the more “grown-up” books — from old Tom Clancys and John Grishams to more contemporary novels and lots of histories, autobiographies and biographies. Most have been read (some even all the way through).

But it was in the attic that the real treasures were discovered — isn’t that where most family treasures are found? Dusty, long-ignored shelves of books seemed to come alive as we read titles and pulled out and exclaimed over old favorites, beloved children’s books and forgotten classics.

Some brought back a flood of memories. It was easy to trace the growth of our kids as their reading choices evolved from Dr. Seuss’ “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” to the Captain Underpants, Goosebumps and Wayside School series and then on to “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy” and of course, the required school reading lists of classics.

And then we came upon some delightful finds — old books handed down from my parents and even their parents before. A 1915 first edition of “The Lost Prince” by Frances Hodgson Burnett is in remarkably fair condition; a yellowed and brittle, obviously often read copy of Horatio Alger Jr.’s “The Young Explorer” with “Received of Henry, Christmas 1918” inscribed on the flyleaf; and a 1928 issue of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” by Erich Maria Remarque.

Holding these old books in hand, I cannot help but wonder who else has read them. Who were they? How many young boys and girls, now long dead, but then with their whole lives in front of them, curled up with these novels and dreamed of their own great adventure and exploits?

In the end, yes, we did find dozens of books neither of us have ever read. And to think that all the while I was moping about and feeling bored, with little to do and nowhere to go — there were literally hundreds of old friends right here just waiting for me to embark on my own reading journeys across time and distance.

Robin Beres is the deputy editor of the Opinion pages. Contact her at mberes@timesdispatch.com

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