Stack of old books and a lamp on a table
Reading & Writing

The Stories Books Tell

When I was a kid I was an avid collector of the Mysteries of the Unknown series published by Time-Life between 1988 and 1991. There were thirty-three well-researched books in the series (I didn’t have them all); all with the same black cover, silver writing for the title, and a bold square image. They had titles like Mysterious Creatures, The UFO Phenomenon, Psychic Voyages, Mystic Places, and Phantom Encounters. The paranormal and occult never scared me; it fascinated me. Every time we went to the used bookstore I’d make a bee-line for the paranormal section to see if there were any new Mysteries of the Unknown books on the shelves. This series has lost its magic for me now knowing that the publisher hated doing these books and only did them to make an easy buck. (Which they did – they made millions of bucks).

One of my favorite things to do now as an adult is to go to the same used bookstore I frequented as a child and search for inexpensive vintage books; especially ones that are about about the occult, paranormal, astrology, magic, mythology, or spirituality. I can be found sitting in the aisles slowly scanning the rows of books. Occasionally I take a book off the shelf and flip through it to see if it wants me to take it home. Time feels like it’s frozen while I’m there. I dream of visiting a giant vintage bookstore and spending the entire day in there like some kind of Wednesday Addams version of Beauty and the Beast’s Belle.

I have a shelf in my home dedicated to my vintage finds. Their covers are all hardback and plain with nothing but a title and author name to lure you in. Some of my collection includes:

Palmistry At a Glance by Martini. Published 1957. My copy has a light gray cover with stains but the pages remain intact. After the title page is an acrostic poem the author wrote using her name.

The Fixed Stars and Constellations in Astrology  by Vivian E. Robson, B.Sc. Published 1923. My third edition is from 1931. It has a bold red cover and on the inside of the cover is a note from a Rainbow Temple asking the reader to please return the book to its shelf when done. I did a search online but couldn’t find anything about such a temple, and the address given is now a residential home. There is also a stamp from Chapel of Son Light which also doesn’t lead to any clues (aside from a SonLight Chapel, a non-denominational Christian church in Pennsylvania, which I’m sure doesn’t want anything to do with an astrology book).

Psychic Archaeology by Jeffrey Goodman. Published 1977. It is a plain black book with the title, author, and publisher printed in gold along the spine. I am amused by the title of the last chapter: Put Your Shovel Where Your Mouth Is!

The Kybalion: A Study of The Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt and Greece by Three Initiates. Published 1912. My edition is from 1940. It has a dark navy cover with crisp gold printing which includes the Hermetic Seal symbol. It has someone’s name written in cursive before the title page. Perhaps he’s an alchemist who understands the secrets and mysteries of Hermetic alchemy. I’ll never know.

The Herbalist by Joseph E. Meyer. Published 1918. My sixth edition is from 1970. It has a forest green cover, a gold title and author, and a blank spine. This is probably one of my favorite books I own. It feels very magical without meaning to. I love the little black and white photos of the plants. At the end of the book is a list of botanical curios. There’s also recipes for things like witch hazel cream, four thieves vinegar, detergents, smoke mixtures, and chewing gum.

Bulfinch’s Mythology: The Age of Fable or Stories of Gods and Heroes illustrated by Federico Castellon. Published 1948. It has a brick red cover and beige woven spine. Some of the stories have beautifully illustrated images that haven’t lost any of their vibrancy over the years. This one I actually acquired from a thrift store and only cost me $2.

Communicating with the Beyond: A Practical Handbook of Spiritualism by Eric. G. Post. Published 1946. A navy color with gold printing along the spine is one of my favorite additions. The author covers everything from witnesses, phenomena, divination techniques, seances and psychic senses. I wonder if the person who owned this book before used it as a guide to conduct their own private seance. This excerpt caught my eye: “Dr. W. J. Crawford, Lecturer of Engineering at Belfast University asserted: ‘Psychic phenomena are quite as real as any other, and the man who nowdadays denies their occurrence on a priori grounds is not worth wasting time upon.'”

The next time you pick up a book at a used bookstore, I challenge you to allow yourself to wonder and be curious. Where has that book lived? What conversations has it heard? How many people have read it? Who did the book belong to before? What sort of person were they? Did the book change their life in some way? How long did they have it for? Why did they pass it on? You won’t have the real answers to these questions, but you can paint a story with your mind which makes the book feel that much richer.

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