Laurie Hertzel Minneapolis Star Tribune
The books that cabin owners and guests leave behind can yield wonderful surprises.
When my husband and I went on a trip last month with a friend, I took along a backpack of books to read. But when I walked into the rented cabin that would be our home for the next two weeks, I almost wished I had left my own books behind. In the main room stood a white wooden bookcase, eight shelves high, packed with tempting titles and stately old editions.
These were not typical cabin books — no dog-eared paperbacks that had been hauled out in a canoe and then abandoned, dampish and tattered.
This was a curated collection. There were old, fascinating books on these shelves, illustrated books published in the 1930s and ’40s, serious hardback novels and biographies.
Clearly, this cabin — which has been in the same family for four generations — is owned by true readers. I wondered how they could bear to leave some of these books here. Their copy of “A Club of One” by AP Russell has an embossed leather cover, gorgeous marbled endpapers, heavy cream pages and an 1891 publication date. Not a first edition — the book was first published in 1887 — but beautiful nonetheless.
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Florence Page Jacques’ “Canoe Country” is missing its dust jacket but contains, of course, her stunning black-and-white illustrations.
A polite hand-lettered note from the cabin owners was tacked onto the edge of a shelf. “Dear Guests: You are most welcome to use the library and add to it if you wish. Please leave the existing collection for others to enjoy. Thank you.”
I didn’t read any of the cabin books because I didn’t want to get deep into something and then have to leave it behind. But I enjoyed the library anyway, browsing the shelves and paging through unfamiliar titles. I was drawn to “The World, the Flesh and Father Smith,” a 1945 Book of the Month Club selection written by Bruce Marshall. I wasn’t familiar with author or book, but I was captivated by the colorful dust jacket, with its pastel-colored houses and pointy-hatted nuns, and by the author’s biography, which I can only assume Marshall wrote himself.
“Bruce Marshall is a dark, smiling man, fundamentally serious, four-square in appearance, definite in manner. He has a great fund of pity for humble, toiling people whose virtues are rarely proclaimed, a vigorous and delightfully malicious humor, and a savage dislike of bullies, stuffed shirts, humbugs and toadies.”
How to resist? I did, but trust me, I will keep an eye out in every used bookstore I visit until I find a copy of my own.
Cabin reading is a serendipitous experience, a time to happen upon books loved and left by others who share some of your sensibilities. (A love of the lake and the woods.) These books reminded me of other finds I’ve discovered in other cabins — none so literary and valuable, but memorable books just the same.
My first Nevada Barr mystery was from a cabin. And one year, I discovered the historical novels of Morgan Llywelyn, devouring “1916,” the first in her trilogy about Ireland’s Easter Rising.
I’m guessing that you, too, have discovered wonderful finds in cabins, books that helped you while away a rainy afternoon or introduced you to someone new. Or maybe you left behind something in hopes of sharing the joy of a special book.