The other day I walked into a used bookshop, just because I needed to be around the written word. It was a narrow little maze, with stacks of books on the floor you had to step carefully around so as not to kick. I’m used to the well lit order of libraries, and expected such a setup to feel crowded. Instead, I felt protected—in the good way. There’s something about old books pressing in on either side that makes you feel like they’d hold you, or surround you or shield you if need be. So I stayed, doing nothing more than breathing around words.
I think the attraction of any sort of bookspace is partly the thought of who’s been there before you. What has this book been through? Where did it stay? Who checked out this book before? Did they like it as much as you did? Did it help or comfort them as much as it did you? And often, you might find yourself hoping so. A book read by someone else, even somebody you’ve never met, can give the sense you’re not alone. It’s comforting, a bit like someone giving you their jacket if you’re cold. And text is fabric, after all.
So, old books to old clothes is a very small jump. In Mary Ann Hoberman’s I Like Old Clothes, a girl who’s fond of secondhand clothes rhymes about their possible past and appreciates their present–”Once-for-good clothes, / Now-for-play clothes.” She wonders who else might have worn them, and what they were like: “Was she thin or fat? / Did she have a cat? / I ask them that.”
The rhymes are fresh and the rhythm is conversational; the book rarely lapses into singsong. The illustrations are soft and sometimes faded, but still vivid; plaid houses, polka dot skies and button flowers add to the charm of the old comfy clothes. The girl’s face as she prances about all dressed up, putting on different airs, makes me smile. I particularly like the picture of her and her brother wearing sweaters with other people’s names; I have a feeling they spent a pretty fun day pretending to be “Josie” and “Henry.” Not unlike reading a book, eh?
So dress up a little; check out a book.