The Things We Leave Behind
I have a confession to make: In addition to spending a great deal of money purchasing new books, I also love to hang out at libraries and used bookstores. It’s better on the budget, no doubt about it. But it’s more than that.
There’s just something cool about holding a book in my hand and reading the words, knowing that someone else held that very same book. Someone else read those very same words. As I’m reading I wonder, who were those other people? What did they think of it? Did they respond the same way I am… or quite differently?
I love this “permanent” aspect of paper-and-ink books. They can almost become like living entities, as they get passed around from hand to hand.
Readers leave bits of themselves behind in books, too, giving tantalizing clues about who they are. There’s the typical coffee stain, and sometimes marks of different colors that beg the question: What were they eating while they read this? A bean burrito? Strawberry ice cream?
Then there’s the underlining, highlighting and dog-eared pages. I love to ponder the lines and paragraphs others have thought important enough to mark (especially in library books – that takes a lot of nerve!) Sometimes I agree with the significance of the passage. Sometimes I puzzle over it, not quite getting what was so great about it.
I have to say, though, that the coolest thing about used books is the treasures I often find inside. Not the words, but bookmarks, business cards, greeting cards, and mysterious notes left inside by previous readers. It’s amazing to me how often I find these things, and I save every one of them. They’re a tangible clue to that faceless person who read this book before me, and they conjure up pictures in my mind, sometimes driving me crazy with curiosity.
Yesterday I found a folded napkin from Frontier Airlines in a book. There was nothing written on it (although that would have been cool) but there was a pink heart sticker on it. Hmmm. A child maybe? But it wasn’t a child’s book.
A few days ago I found a business card for a private investigator (how exciting!) with a lot of scribbles on the back, including several websites, one of them being the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado and a notation, “first Weds of every month.” I sat for awhile thinking about how cool it might be to be a private investigator, but couldn’t quite imagine Kinsey Milhone or Stephanie Plum going to a monthly meeting with fellow detectives.
The most precious thing I’ve found in a book lately was a beautiful flowery notecard with a handwritten note. It was addressed “Dearest Margaret” and signed “Love, Nancy” and contained a lovely quote on mothering among other things. When reading something like this, I can’t help feeling voyeuristic and kind of like I’m intruding on someone’s privacy. But then I realize, it’s not my fault I opened this book and found this notecard here. And maybe this note was, in some cosmic fashion, meant to come into my hands. Maybe Nancy’s lovely note to Margaret has something in it for me. Maybe it came to me because I save and treasure these things, and therefore the note has even more meaning than it originally did.
It doesn’t matter; I keep the little clues others leave behind, to remind me of the real people out there who read our books.
I do sometimes wonder if these people are missing their little items… probably not an airline napkin, but it’s possible the detective is looking for that business card, and Margaret might be wondering where she put that sweet note from Nancy. I always have a moment of wanting to be a detective myself and track those people down and return their items. But then I get over it.
What I do know is this: There’s an amazing, fun feeling of discovery every time I open a book, and these little treasures left behind only add to the thrill. Books take me to unexpected places, give me a glimpse into other people’s lives… and the things other readers leave behind, well, they make the experience that much richer.
Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent