I’m the first to admit I’m a total cover slut. I go through a store and if I see a pretty cover, I’ll pick it up and read the back. And I should know better, b/c 4 of the books I’ve kept for YEARS (and I do mean years/multiple moves) have the most Godawful, water-wrecked covers…you wouldn’t put them in a yard sale for free. You’d better bury me with these books, b/c I’m never getting rid of them!
Well, one of them is a recent rescue. 1962 version of Mary Stewart’s “Moonspinners.” (I still remember the movie w/an all-grown-up Haley Mills!) It’s beat up. The pages are faded and brittle and all falling out. I’ve got it rubber-banded together. I should probably read it with gloves – or tweezers. But the story is just as riveting as I remember – an intrigue set in Crete. (Think Phyllis A Whitney, but with Mediterranean sunshine.) Gorgeous setting, spirited heroine, lots of wondering who’s the real culprit and how to tell truth from lie. Can totally “hear” Haley Mills as I read!
The next is 1976 hardcover version of Wilderness Wife by Bradford and Vena Angier. A city couple moved to wilds of British Columbia, Canada to build a log cabin and live off the land. (Anyone remember that movie The Wilderness Family, or the TV show Grizzly Adams?) To quote the inside flap: “The best kind of true adventure story, this is how a woods-wise couple get their food from nature’s larder, stay warm in 66 degrees below zero, travel in unmapped forests, and face the dangers of whitewater, grizzlies, wolves and a charging moose. Here, too, is reverie in the seasons, the beauty of the green world…”
The next is a 1944 edition of Jumper The Life of a Siberian Horse by Nicholas Kalashnikoff. (Think Black Beauty if he lived during the Russian Revolution.) If the following Author’s Note doesn’t move you, then you have no heart:
“Jumper was a Siberian horse and my friend. He was gentle, wise, courageous, loyal, and understanding to a rare dgree. It is seldom that one can say more than that of anyone, whether man or beast. Fate happily brought us together in the defense of our country, when for a time our destinies were strangely linked. He was already a seasoned campaigner, having served several masters with the same devotion he was to give me. In return he asked for nothing save care and measure of affection. These I gave him wholeheartedly for I valued him as I would a person near and dear. In writing his story, out of my own memories and as I got it from the lips of others who loved him, I pay a debt of gratitude not to Jumper alone but to countless horses who have unwittingly and uncomplainingly shared in the tragedies men create.”
From a quiet life in a Siberian peasant village through the horrors of war and back again to the boy who raised him, much of his story is told thanks to a little notebook that each soldier who had him as a mount was careful to update. Not just a tale of a horse, but the boys and men caught up in a conflict they had no control over. But if you judged a book by it’s cover, would you have picked this one up?
And last is a tattered 1952 hardcover, its spine long gone, entitled The Healing Woods by Martha Reben. A woman bedridden with pleurisy spends a couple summers in the woods with a gruff old guide named Mr. Rice, where the fresh air and sunshine (and no pollution) cure her completely. A quiet gem of a book, filled with canoe rides, the cry of loons and pesky porcupines gnawing on canoe paddles. Crickets and thunderstorms and beaver dams, fishing for your supper and cooking over a campfire.
Would you have guessed looking by the covers of any of these what wonders lay between their dusty, tattered covers and discolored, brittle pages? And I constantly strive to remember that in the world of splashy, colorful covers and the trend toward “action and sex” in fiction, that sometimes it’s the quiet gems that resonate most clearly. That harken to a simpler time with different values, when the rule was function over form, substance over flash.