Why We Read Old Books Part I

Sportsman’s Vintage Press publishes books which were generally written in the first half of the 20th Century by men who were born as early as the late 1800’s, so we clearly have a stake in the old-fashioned ways of doing things.  Not everyone will be interested in reading books from several decades ago, but for those who are thinking about picking up a classic book about the outdoors, I thought I would provide some rationale for doing so.

The most obvious reason that someone might pick up a classic book is purely for entertainment value.  Just as with a novel, many of the older books about hunting are plenty entertaining to read regardless of any practical knowledge they may contain.  While the original purpose of the these books was to instruct the reader about how to do certain things, the authors almost always include a good deal of first-hand accounts and fishing and hunting stories.

Elmer Keith’s books, for example, are chock-full of his experiences in the game fields and the match shooting ranges.  Keith’s stories about his successes and failures with a firearm are so entertaining that a book like Sixguns—which at its core is a practical volume on the use of a revolver—can rival a novel for its ability to keep the reader firmly planted in their chair and their eyes glued to the page.  Additionally, Keith tells many stories which he heard second-hand from an even older generation of men who lived through the Civil War and Old West era–which is reason enough on its own to read one of his books.

Elmer Keith told great hunting stories

Elmer Keith: A legendary American sportsman and a great storyteller

Many of these old books give us the chance to live vicariously through someone who had the means to take a sporting trip we can only dream of, and did it in one of the golden ages of hunting.  For example, many hunters dream of making it to Africa someday for a safari, but such a trip is expensive and time-consuming, so the opportunities for excursions of this kind are limited.  However, Charles Askins made many trips to Africa and a recounting of one of his more extensive trips is available in Asian Jungle, African Bush.  This book not only includes practical how-to information for the travelling hunter but also includes a journal of Col. Askins’ trip which details in both words and pictures his hunting experience on two continents.

hunting stories from Asia and Africa

Asian Jungle, African Bush includes a journal of Col. Askins’ hunt on two exotic continents.

Another writer who gives us a look at a world we may never experience first-hand is John “Pondoro” Taylor, who was a professional hunter in Africa and whose book African Rifles and Cartridges draws on his decades of experience on the Dark Continent.  And a book like Greatest Fishing by Joe Brooks is a similar recounting of exotic trips taken in pursuit of game, but this time the quarry is fish.

Hunting stories from the golden age of African hunting

“Pondoro” Taylor was a professional hunter in Africa and wrote “African Rifles and Cartridges” specifically for Americans who planned to venture abroad

So, while the original intent of these books was primarily to teach the readers how to do something—whether it was how to hunt, fish, or shoot—these books can and should be read purely for their entertainment value.  Whether one wants to be regaled with stories of a far away land or hear of events which happened on our own continent, authors such as Elmer Keith, Charles Askins, “Pondoro” Taylor, and Joe Brooks are happy to oblige.

In the second part of this series, we will cover the historical value of older books.

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