Why I love to look through used books
I admit it, I’m a collector of other people’s lost things. To be more specific, their bookmarks. Well, as close as these objects come to being bookmarks.
I was born into a family of avid readers—my dad devoured sci-fi and fantasy novels in volumes 700 pages thick in mere two day periods, and having that sort of inspiration in the same house with you, you quickly feel the pressure to catch up.
Sometimes three times a week, my father and I would venture up to Half Price Books. I’m a firm believer in that it is never the same place twice—new books wander in and out of there all day long, just waiting to be found. But the magic of Half Price Books is similar to the magic that exists in thrift stores—these items, these stories, were not only yours at some point, but someone else’s. It’s easy to forget this fact when you stumble upon a near pristine copy of Bridget’s Jones’s Diary or The Return of the King, but you can also find reminders of other lives that book has lived with what previous readers leave behind: Bookmarks.
Not the kind you buy in Barnes and Noble near the cash registers. I’m talking about the kind that are spur-of-the-moment bookmarks. When you just need something to hold your place: a napkin, a receipt, a boarding pass And these, I collect. I first started noticing these remnants when I was younger, and since then, I have collected anything from crushed flowers, to prom photos, to old concert tickets. You can learn a lot about people by what sort of things they find to hold their place, and it can lead to a lot of questions.
I found the prom photo in a collection of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry. I hadn’t expected it when it slid out from the pages and landed gracefully by my feet. The photo itself is very ’90s: long, dark blue dresses that remind me of Julia Stiles’s in 10 Things I Hate About You. Hair in creative updos as these two girls cling to the arms of their dates. Corsages bedeck their wrists and boutineers upon breasts. Someone had saved this. Someone probably missed this. Was one of these two girls the mysterious previous owner? And this was only the beginning.
Perusing the clearance section (I know it’s already half price, but I’m a bargain shopper, what can I say?), I found a ticket to a Vampire Weekend show. An old one from September 11th, 2010 for a show at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. This ticket had travelled several states to get to me, just by some mishap. And I found myself wandering- who had gone out and seen one of my favorite bands? How did the show turn out?
I found an old postcard in a Jane Austen novel that states boldly, “Virginia is for lovers.” I have a laminated piece of loose leaf paper that reads, “I, Emma, am a Harry Potter Fan,” all in curly, swirly font. I even have a small green card that reads, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a deaf person selling these cards for a living,” and the back has the alphabet in sign language. And those are just a few.
One of my favorites is on this yellowed index card, written in blue ball point pen. It reads, “Jesus, I’m very comfortable when I’m away from activity. I don’t like to be the center of attention. I like to be withdrawn- help me to open up to everyone. Love, Jolie.” This girl had written this on this card, something so personal, and left it in a second hand bookstore, nestled between the pages of Walden.
The world is full of people I will never have the pleasure of meeting and knowing, and the fact that these people who left tiny parts of their lives in these pages have just as complex realities as my own, is remarkable and wondrous and strange. And when I look over these tiny clues, hints and parts of themselves they left in these books, I feel a strange connection to them, and I find myself feeling no longer so alone in this world, but an entity in an odd companionship with them.
Emily Glassmeyer is a soon-to-be high school graduate, Jane Austen connoisseur and purple lipstick enthusiast living in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find her here.
[Image via Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon on Flickr]