Special issue stirs memories of books

Posted on March 19, 2012

Bravo for PAW’s Jan. 18 special issue on books. My father was an antiquarian bookseller, and since I was a boy, books have been my life, whether I always liked them or not. My grandmother used to tell me that when I was a boy I once ran through the hallways of our home, lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves packed with books, waving my fists in the air and yelling, “I hate books!” It’s possible I was envious of the time my father devoted to them. As I grew older, though, I read Huxley’s Brave New World, Nordoff and Hall’s Mutiny on the Bounty, and Princeton author Philip Wylie ’24’s Generation of Vipers from those same shelves, and I perused copies of Lilliput, a small-format British magazine of the ’40s and ’50s, for its cartoons and photos of female nudes.

In my junior year at Princeton, in need of pocket money, I visited the Student Employment Agency and was told there was an opening for a student assistant in the Firestone Library rare-books reading room. The coincidence was too great to resist and so, in my last two years at the University, I worked for a few hours on weekday afternoons in the reading room under Julie Hudson, mostly retrieving rare books from locked stack areas for readers, but also cleaning and dressing dusty and dry leather-bound books stored in the stack areas.  

For my senior thesis, I used the resources not only of Firestone Library, but also those of the New York Public Library, consulting scarce periodicals there, many yellowed and crumbling with age. Like bookman Nicholas Potter ’73, I joined my father in his business, where I worked for some 30 years until we formally closed the business at the end of 1994. My shelving is less, but as packed as my father’s used to be, and stacks of books grow around our home. I frequent local bookstores and the Book Club of California in San Francisco, attend occasional book fairs, and, less frequently, preview auction sales.

While I enjoy reading every issue of PAW, I was thoroughly delighted to read all of PAW’s books issue and would be equally delighted if one were to appear on an annual basis.

William P. Wreden Jr. ’62
Berkeley, Calif.

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