Hooked on Books: The Stories of My Life


When I was young, I yearned for books. They were not a priority in my small family. Aside from an encyclopedia, there were no books in the house. There were newspapers and magazines. Our subscriptions included Field and Stream, True and Photoplay, as well as a local paper and several New York tabloids. We did like to read periodicals.

I was an only child and loved to peruse the encyclopedia. I learned to enjoy survival stories from the outdoor magazines and developed a love of film and gossip from the movie mags. I read the comics every day, as well as the lurid headlines in the New York Mirror. Like so many people, I wish I had saved all my comic books from back in the day. I cringe when I hear the prices they bring now.

As a child, I discovered the public library in town. I remember being enchanted by the tiny rattan stools we sat on to listen to stories. The librarian managed to time her picture book The Little Engine That Could to the train at the nearby railroad station. The commuter train ran every day, and when I heard the whistle of the engine while she was reading “I think I can, I think I can,” I was hooked.

Now I have too many books because I’m a bit of a hoarder. Is it proper to use “a bit” as an adjective when it comes to hoarding? My excuse is that I became a children’s librarian and had to catch up on my lack of literature as a child. I remember being bored with Sally, Dick and Jane, but now I can’t stop myself from buying old children’s primers and texts. They’re like a spotlight into the past and a much simpler time. The illustrations of Spot, Puff and little Sally being pulled in a wagon are delightful.

I’m a volunteer at the Old and New Shop on Bay Avenue in Manahawkin, which generates income for the local hospital, Southern Ocean Medical Center. It’s staffed by volunteers who work with the donations: clothing, housewares, furniture, toys and tons of books. It always amazes me when I hear the amount of money the thrift shop gives to the hospital. Last year it totaled over $350,000. This large sum is due to the sale of items sorted and displayed by the hard-working volunteer staff. Many of them put in long hours because they enjoy the challenge. It is a cliche, but “someone’s trash is another’s treasure.”

I covet books by women illustrators from the turn of the 20th century. Jessie Wilcox Smith, Violet Oakley and Elizabeth Shippen Green were among the more famous ones. They lived in the Philadelphia area and were called the Red Rose Girls. They attended the Philadelphia Academy of Art and created beautiful paintings for books, periodicals and advertising illustrations. It must have been difficult to be successful artists at a time when women’s work outside the home was frowned upon. I also discovered the illustrated art of Maud Bogart (Humphrey’s mom) on old grocery tins found in the Old and New Shop. It gives me much joy to find items and books by these talented ladies.

I enjoy sorting through the books at the thrift shop: antiquarian, fiction, nonfiction, children’s, and prayer books and hymnals. I also discover other genres: sheet music, biographies, bodice rippers, poetry, classics, coffee table tomes and, to my surprise, wedding albums and school yearbooks. Like our shop’s name, some are old, some new. Sadly, I can’t return the wedding albums and school yearbooks, but I am often compelled to peruse them. I recently found a 1930 Columbia College of Pharmacy yearbook that was fascinating. There were 12 women graduates out of a class of 219 students. Imagine the hurdles they must have endured, especially the one African-American woman in the group. What stories they could tell if they were alive now! They would all be at least 108 years old.

It’s a joy to find an unusual book that I didn’t know existed. Also, it’s rewarding to discover one I’ve wanted to read or a book by a favorite author for friends. I love a quest, so it’s fun to just “come upon” these treasures.

I know many people have succumbed to electronic reading. The Kindle is portable for travel, but there is nothing like a book in hand. If you are a bibliophile or just a quirky collector like me, come join the fun at the Old and New Shop. Better yet, offer your services to volunteer at the store. Perhaps you enjoy antiques, toys, collectibles, clothing, linens or mysterious artifacts. Who knows? You might find a gem fit for the “Antiques Roadshow.”

Kathleen Donnelly lives in Beach Haven Terrace.


Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.