Wednesday, January 4, 2012
There is no such thing as obsolete...
I collect strange old books. For some reason, medical books. These can be difficult to find, particularly in a small regional city. I think, unfortunately, that a lot of old medical books are destroyed because the information in them is either obsolete, or incredibly dangerous. My British Pharmacopoeia 1932 might not be up to date with the latest gimmicks like...um, paracetamol, it does tell me how to mix up a medicinal tincture of cocaine. Mmm, sparkly goodness.
I am in love with Embalming, Theoretical and Practical by E. F. Scudamore F.B.I.E. I would love it slightly more if it was called Embalming for Fun and Profit, but you can’t have everything. This is the book that taught me that eyeballs liquefy three to five days after death. Invaluable stuff!
The oldest book I own is called Elijah the Tishbite. It is from the 1860s, and has been handed down in the family for ages. First, I guess, because someone was religious, then from habit, and now because you can’t throw out a book that old. I’ve tried to read Elijah the Tishbite a few times, if only to see what a Tishbite is, but I can’t do it. This book has defeated me. I get a few pages in, and am suddenly overcome by the urge to do harm to myself and others. Nobody can veer from dull religious pomposity into casual racist bigotry like the Victorians.
But that’s what I love about old books. The “facts” might be laughable, but in a century or two ours will be as well. Old books are a snapshot in time, part of the zeitgeist, and a window into a very different world.
Mum once said those old encyclopaedias were just collecting dust. But, really, how can we get rid of them? Where else are you going to see a cliffhanger like this:
What's the most impractical, wonderful book you own?