In the early days of this blog I used to get regular reactions from other bloggers. This was back before I started the long commute to New York City and when I actually had a little spare time on my hands. I always enjoyed the interactions, but followers eventually dropped away and I now often get no responses to my posts at all. That’s why I was thrilled when two recent posts came together with a response one of my faithful readers sent. I’d written about keeping books neat, along with a piece related to ancient food, when a friend pointed me to the story of a cookie found in a 1529 Cambridge copy of Augustine. According to the piece on Delish, the cookie was left in the book about half a century ago and had only now just been discovered.
Now, like most readers of religious studies, I have opinions about Augustine that aren’t pristine. Still, I respect books. I suspect all the bakery jokes necessary have been made about this particular bookmark, but what strikes me as odd is that nobody discovered a cookie placed in a book when I was less than ten years old, until now. Let that say what you will—Augustine still sells wildly in translation, of course. Not too many individuals go back to the source, however, at least not reading as far as the cookie. I don’t know about Cambridge, but Edinburgh used to have books from the seventeenth century on the open stacks in the New College library. I’m sure the older volumes weren’t frequently consulted. And I’m not the one to point a finger; I have no catalogue of my own books so I have to remember what I already have.
Books aren’t a great investment, financially. I remember back when Antiques Roadshow was all the rage. Every episode I saw where someone brought a really old book led to certain disappointment. No matter how rare, the value was measured in hundreds of dollars rather than thousands. Those of us who invest in books do so for different reasons. Our money is being exchanged for knowledge, learning, and thinking. Back when Amazon used to give out bookmarks with each purchase one had a quote from Erasmus, “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.” We are kindred spirits it seems. Buy books and you’ll grow in wisdom, but you may go hungry. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.