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The International Writers Magazine: Travel Pages

Cutting the pages
Eric D Lehman

A few years back, I was afforded a rare pleasure. Having taken a walking holiday in England, I began searching the local libraries for accounts of similar journeys. I happened across Afoot in England by W.H. Hudson, an author previously unknown to me. Hudson’s love of the English countryside mirrored my own, his encounters with people and places delighted my imagination, and his descriptions, somewhere between scientific and romantic, warmed my heart. However, my unusual experience did not arise from the charming content, but from the physical book itself.
The edition at the library was published by J.M. Dent and Sons, one of a twenty-four volume set printed by The Temple Press at Letchworth, U.K. The publishing date was a sufficiently if not outrageously remote 1923. The book and its fellows had been hardbound in beautiful green cloth, with thick pages and heavy print. But what was remarkable to me was that no one had ever read this version of Afoot in England, or indeed any of the twenty-four volumes. The pages had never been cut. What made this even more special was the set was limited to 750 copies, only 100 of which had been relegated to the United States. Checking the price later, I found that a collector valued the series at nearly three thousand dollars.

Knowing that such reading rarities only come to book lovers once in a great while, I decided to make the most of it. I boiled tea, turned on soothing classical music, and proceeded to read, cutting the pages as I whispered along. I carefully snipped the edge of the connected sheets, opening to my vision a page at a time. After enjoying both Hudson’s rambles through English villages and the process of first reading, I obtained another of the volumes, digesting the second meal with as much pleasure as the first. I waffled between thinking that this was devaluing the books and thinking that I was bringing them to their purposeful fulfillment. After all, they were meant to be read!

Wouldn’t the library be keeping them in its rare books room if they didn’t want anyone to read them? This was a selfish justification of my actions, but I found that I couldn’t find other editions of many of the volumes, that when I did the reading experience wasn’t nearly as powerful, and that, most importantly, I had fallen in love with W.H. Hudson’s work.
Although I had never heard of W.H. Hudson, I found that he had been quite popular in the early part of the 20th century, making impressions on authors like Joseph Conrad, who famously stated "This man writes as the grass grows." Ernest Hemingway gave Hudson high praise, as I found when I worked my way through his novels. To my great delight, his narrator in The Garden of Eden buys the J.M. Dent version I had come to love, a purchase that far more than money, finally makes him feel rich and successful.

I did not own these volumes, but I still felt rich. I knew that I had stumbled upon a rare bibliophilic happiness, one shared by only a few people, many of them celebrated authors. So, one by one I devoured all 24 of Mr. Hudson’s books, from his adventures in South America to his catalog of London birds. Part of this experience was my love of Hudson’s rustic subject material and beautifully simple writing. But another, perhaps greater part, was my love of cutting the pages.
© Eric D. Lehman December 2007

Failure at the lake
Eric D Lehman

When I was sixteen, my brother Andy and I hiked up the summer Sierra in the backcountry near Lake Tahoe. Our parents had left us with two water bottles and worried instructions to stick to the trail. "Don’t get lost!"

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