The Story of a Book

Not the story(s) in a book but the story of a book. Those little personal detailsdedications, monograms, perhaps scraps of notesthat tell something of the provenance of the book. I was raised by a father who had no fear of flea markets or antique stores and am blessed to live in an area (Southeast Ohio) which is rich in both. I would like to share some of the volumes I’ve got on my shelf.

I’ll start with the oldest. It is The Practice of Religion by the Revd. Archibald Campbell Knowles, D.D. This book was given to me by my bishop at a clergy retreat a few years ago. Inside the front cover is the dedication:

To William; Church School Award for best work in class for 194546; Dn. Diplock; June 16, 1946; Christ Church, Yonkers, N.Y.

The book is worn and saw much use. It particularly likes to open to chapter IX: The Way of the Cross. How did this book travel from Yonkers to Charlotte?

Next is The Holy Bible From Ancient Eastern Manuscripts: Containing the Old and New Testaments Translated from the Peshitta, The Authorized Bible of the Church of the East by George M. Lamsa. My copy is a seventh edition from approximately 1957. I acquired this recently at an antique store on the East Pike (National Road, US Hwy. 40) near Norwich, Ohio for the sum of $2. It’s beat up and needs rebound. Tucked in between the 21st and 22nd chapters of the Proverbs is a newspaper clipping that has been there so long it leeched color onto the fine pages of the book (I put it back after I looked at it). The clipping is the obituary of a previous owner’s mother dated June 17, 1977. This provenance becomes very interesting because this woman was married to a longtime Lutheran pastor and birthed two sons who followed in their father’s footsteps to also become Lutheran pastors. I surmise that Rev. John probably had this book in his library at St. Paul’s Lutheran, Roseville, Ohio. His father served the same parish for 37 years. The church is currently an ELCA parish but that body did not come along until 1988. Perhaps I will call one day and inquire into the story of Pastor John. The one interesting marking I have found thus far is a check mark next to Psalm 100.

Next is a First Edition of the complete New American Standard Bible (1971). I acquired this in 2012 at a thrift store in Harvey, North Dakota for the sum of fifty cents. There are some coffee or tea stains here and there and this Bible was clearly read regularly for many years. In the back are some Bible study notes printed by a woman’s hand. There’s a break down of the Old Testament by genre followed by some drivel about the book of Esther that was probably presented at a women’s study. If you know anything about North Dakota, you might wonder who would have been reading the NASB when it was new. It’s never been popular among the Lutherans, who are definitely the dominant group in the area. Yet there is a cryptic abbreviated note about “Rev. Walth.” Could this be a reference to C.F.W. Walther, first President of the LCMS?

Now I come to some service books. The first is The Book of Common Prayer (1979). This came to me as a donation from a parish, whose name I have forgotten, in Oklahoma when they replaced their prayer books with the 2019 edition. This was being used in the pews and has been wet at some point in time. Inside the front cover is pasted a card reading:

Given to the Glory of God and in Thanksgiving for. . .

Marriage Encounter; Ken & Shirley; Encountered Dec. 1977; March 22, 1980

I’m not entirely sure what a marriage encounter entailed in the late 1970s. Is the second date marking the donation or is it perhaps Ken and Shirley’s anniversary?

Second is a relatively rare book called Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, which is the service book and hymnal of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. This synod is the modern remnant of one of the Norwegian synods. So, even though the hymns have the same names and usually lyrics, the tunes are of Scandinavian provenance and entirely different from many of the common Lutheran hymnals. This one belonged to a girl named Grace. I say girl because on the first page is a note in pencil stating, “Gracie: plaid pants [are] out of style.” I’m no expert on fashion but the copyright on the book is 1996 and there is nothing to indicate it was a subsequent printing. So perhaps the provenance is mid to late 1990s.

Last is a pristine copy of the Lutheran Book of Worship (or Lutheran Book of Weirdness as Pastor Sullivan on the “Ask the Pastor” YouTube channel affectionately refers to it.) Lutherans love to denote their hymnals by the color of the binding; this is the green book. Mine is an 18th printing from 1998 and the gift edition with leather covers and ribbon markers. When I say pristine, I mean the only thing it was missing was the box it came in. I would be comfortable saying it had never been used as the binding shows no traces of wear and the marker ribbons were still folded over in their original position from the printer. This was monogrammed but the imprint is barely legible. After much careful examination I made out the name Ruth W_____. Interesting that this single characteristic of this otherwise pristine book is the only deteriorated element. Perhaps someone made a weak attempt to rub it off before they donated the book to my local purveyor of used books, where I found it priced the princely sum of $5. If this was a confirmation gift, Ruth is probably around my age, one of the older Millennials.

What’s the point? I think of these little clues as windows into someone else’s journey of faith (or perhaps not in the case of the last one, which was unused). The previous owners participated in the life of the church, in Bible study, in the sacraments, in ministry. Many were gifts that the giver thought were important for the life of faith – and all are gifts, after a fashion, to me. What other treasures will join them in time?

Shannon Ramey

Canon Shannon Ramey was ordained a deacon in the Orthodox Anglican Church in 2017 and a priest in 2018. He also serves as the Secretary General for International Relations of the Orthodox Anglican Communion. He is a 2015 graduate of Regent University. He previously served an enlistment in the United States Navy. Canon Ramey is a widower with two young daughters.

'The Story of a Book' have 3 comments

  1. April 8, 2024 @ 1:40 pm Don Warrington

    In a copy of Herbert Mortimer Luckock’s The Divine Liturgy, I found the bookplate of the Rev. Frederic S. Fleming, who was the Rector of Trinity Wall Street. You can see an image of that here:


  2. April 8, 2024 @ 4:17 pm Sudduth Rea Cummings

    Your interesting article reminds me of the book given to me for my confirmation class at St. Matthew’s Church in Enid, OK. I was attending college back then and the book was The King’s Highway. It was an interesting, informative and useful study that I still have to this day. If you ever run across a copy of it, I recommend reading it.


  3. April 9, 2024 @ 10:31 am Stephanie Traylor

    How lovely! I am drawn to old books myself, especially the ones that have notations in them like these. Sometimes I think about how my own books will end up in thrift shops one day, each one with an ink stamp in the front cover with my name. I also did a little Googling, and Marriage Encounter seems to be a particular sort of conference to help married couples reinvigorate their relationships, possibly since the 1950s. I saw references to Lutherans and Methodists in my cursory explorations but didn’t make any deep dives.


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