I’ve been buying a lot of books lately. Mostly used on eBay — great deals on good Catholic books. Got a nice former-library Encyclopedia of the Saints, which the whole family digs (10,000 saints — who knew?) for $2 or so.
Also picked up St. Thomas Aquinas’s simplified Summa Theologica, called My Way of Life, the source of that spectacular quote under This Moment on this blog, along with hardcover copies of Imitation of Christ and Imitation of Mary for something like $7 total, including shipping. Nice.
But what I really wanted was a nice pocket-size copy of Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales (pictured), patron saint of writers and journalists, and my confirmation saint. (Lest you think I knew at an early age what I would become, I should note that I was confirmed as a 25-year-old father of two; when I was a teen I didn’t know I would be a writer or a Catholic!)
There were lots of new paperbacks on eBay, and two hardcover editions from the 1920s. The first was a 1923 second edition in the saint’s native French, bound in brown leather. Beautiful book, but I don’t speak or read French, so it made sense that I’d bid on the late 1920s American edition, the size of a coat’s inside pocket, with the yellowed dust jacket still intact. There was another bidder, but surely it was destined to grace my shelf.
I bought the English edition, but couldn’t keep from watching as no one bid on the French version. Minimum opening bid was $5, plus $3 shipping. No reserve. No bids.
A horrible thought struck me: this book would be regarded as worthless and tossed. It would be burned, or rot amongst coffee grounds and banana peels. I had to save it.
I bid $5. Spent $3 on shipping. The book is beautiful, bizarrely bound (to my eyes, at least): a metal strip runs behind the leather spine, with two wire spring clips the hold the pages in. The pages themselves are not uniformly sized and are variously stitched together.
I was fascinated and promptly showed the family. Jodi smiled and shook her head. The kids were vaguely interested in the book — what caught their collective attention was Brendan’s question to me, in a tone equal parts hopeful and impressed, doubtful and incredulous: “Dad, can you read French?”
Um, no. I simply can’t help myself.