Tuesday, September 04, 2007


The Book: Kate Greenaway, Language of Flowers. Avenel Books, 1979. Very good book in good dust jacket; jacket shows mild age-related browning and water damage to back cover. Resale price (50¢) written in pencil on front end paper.
First read: 1980
Owned since: 1980

This small (4" square) book is one of the first I have a clear memory of buying, at Norfolk Academy's Field Day in 1980, when I was a sophomore. It seemed wildly elegant and romantic to me -- before I became the hard-headed pragmatist you see today, I was a romantic girl -- and I came across it while my mother was organizing books for the sale.

Mrs. Hume, an English teacher I'd had my problems with the year before, was the faculty supervisor of the sale. I asked her whether there was a way I could make sure I got the book when the sale began. She stashed it behind a row of books so that no one else could see it, a gesture of kindness I still appreciate.

It was also my first preview of the unique and incomparable perk of bookselling: we get the best books first.

Kate Greenaway (1846-1901) was an illustrator who created much of what we think of as the iconography of Victorian England: cherubs, beautifully-dressed children, perfect flowers, loving mothers and wistful young ladies. Her Language of Flowers includes dozens of plants that are no longer familiar to us (Eupatorium? Quamoclit? Whortleberry?), but I still love being able to open this book and learn that a gift of cranberry blossoms means "a cure for heartache."

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