Bookmarks: Cabin books are a real find

When my husband and I drove up north with a friend last month, I took a backpack full of books to read. But as I entered 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 enticing titles and stately old editions.

These weren’t typical cabin books—not dog-eared paperbacks that had been dragged out in a canoe and then abandoned, damp and tattered.

This was a curated collection. On these shelves were old fascinating books, illustrated books published in the 1930’s and 40’s, serious bound novels and biographies.

This cabin – which has been in the same family for four generations – clearly belongs to genuine readers. I wondered how they could bear to leave some of these books here. Your edition of A Club of One by AP Russell has an embossed leather binding, beautiful mottled endpapers, heavy cream pages and a publication date of 1891. Not a first edition – the book was first published in 1887 – but nice nonetheless.

Florence Page Jacques’ “Canoe Country” may lack the dust jacket but of course includes her stunning black and white illustrations.

A polite handwritten note from the cabin owners was pinned to the edge of a shelf. “Dear guests, you are cordially invited to use and expand the library if you wish. Please allow others to use the existing collection. Thank you.”

I didn’t read any of the cabin books because I didn’t want to go deep into something and then have to put it behind me. But I still enjoyed the library, rummaging through the shelves and flipping 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 didn’t know the author or the book, but I was fascinated by the colorful dust jacket with its pastel houses and pointy-hat nuns and the author’s biography, which I can only assume Marshall wrote himself.

“Bruce Marshall is a dark, smiling man, fundamentally serious, square in appearance, definite in style. He has a great store of compassion for humble, working people whose virtues are seldom proclaimed, an energetic and delightfully malicious sense of humor, and a savage dislike for tyrants, stuffed shirts, humbugs, and toadies.”

how to resist I have, but trust me I’ll keep an eye out at every second-hand bookshop I visit until I find a copy of my own.

Reading in the cubicle is a chance experience, a time to stumble upon books loved and left behind by others who share some of your sensibilities. (A love of the lake and the forest.) These books reminded me of other finds I’ve found in other cottages – not so literary and valuable, but nonetheless memorable books. My first Nevada Barr mystery was from a cabin up north; it was set on Isle Royale. And in a year I discovered Morgan Llywelyn’s historical novels and devoured 1916, the first part of her trilogy about Ireland’s Easter Rising.

I suspect that you, too, have discovered wonderful finds in huts, books that helped you get through a rainy afternoon or introduced you to someone. Or maybe you left something behind hoping to share the joy of a special book. Tell your stories! Write me at books@startribune.com and let’s keep the cabin feeling going.

Laurie Hertzel is the Books Editor-in-Chief at the Star Tribune. @StribBooks.

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