A book, you would think, is not a pocket, a purse, or a wastebasket, but people dispose of their sniffle-filled Kleenex between unexposed pages, their toothpicks, too, dirty where they’ve gripped them while cleaning their teeth—such in-decency—matchbooks with things written on the underside of the flap, usually numbers, of telephones, I suppose; or they leave paper clips and big flat mother-of-pearl buttons—imagine—curls of hair and all sorts of receipts as well as other slips of paper they’ve used to mark the spot where they stopped; and they file correspondence between leaves as if a book were a slide drawer—do they do that to their own books?—or they tuck snapshots, postcards, unused stamps, into them, now and then a pressed bloom—they stain, I’ve seen leaf shadows—one- to five- to ten-dollar bills, you’d never guess, yes, rubber bands, a shoelace, candy and gum wrappers—even their chewed gum that I have to pry out with a putty knife—people—people—I dee-clare—and newspaper clippings, often the author’s reviews, that are among the worst intruders because in time they’ll sulfur the pages where they’ve been compressed the way people who fall asleep on the grass of a summer morning leave their prints for the use of sorcerers like me to make our magic.

– excerpted from Middle C by William H. Gass

I have a habit of sticking odd bookmarks in between the pages  – abandoned reply cards from magazines, bits of paper left over from coupon or article cuttings, or the library reminder card when I loan out books. At worst, I sometimes lay a book face down, pages spread-eagled on the countertop which results in a severe reprimand from The Brunette who rescues the tortured title and puts a proper bookmark in its proper place.

When we go to tag or estate sales looking through old books, especially in old cookbooks, I find torn out recipes, penciled in notes, long expired advertisements, or in the former owner’s hand, additions, subtractions and altered oven times. At one sale, I found a man in the attic who was picking books out of cartons, turning them inside out and shaking them, waiting for something to fall to the floor. Then he would toss the book aside and pick up the next.

I thought that one time he may have found a spare dollar, or an envelope with several, and hoped again to find some treasure. Maybe one day he will…that’s the least of many hopes a book can provide…

One time I found an entire scrapbook – it seems the family that had once owned the house also sponsored a foreign exchange student. There was an entire collection of articles about him and his accomplishments in the high school, even a few letters he had written back after he had returned home. I traced his name back to a fabric company in India. Haven’t made contact since I’m not sure how far to take this adventure. At best, as a man I calculated would now be in his 70’s, he might find some enjoyment in the nostalgic reminder – at worst I would be branded an international stalker.

But that’s what books do…they ask questions…

London Bookshop 1940A boy sits amid the ruins of a London bookshop following an air raid
on October 8, 1940, reading a book titled “The History of London.”
[AP photo via The Atlantic]

[h/t to Biblioklept for the excerpt…a usual unusual read that always get me thinking…]