On What People Leave in Books

So, as I’ve been telling everyone, I’ve got a new job at this local book warehouse that sells books online (over Amazon, Abebooks, Ebay etc).

I could write a post simply about that, about how the whole thing is an entirely new experience for me – before this all I had was a Sunday job | I was living on about a tenner a week | I couldn’t go out for drinks | I had to plan ahead – lunchboxes, buying the cheapest things from supermarkets, not eating out | When my clothes became tired or worn I’d have to think about throwing them out (at the moment I still have only about a weeks worth of clothes, though, that number is growing) – so, the whole new-job-thing has had a big effect, or might have a big effect (too early to know yet).

Anyway, although looking at/feeling up books all day is pretty fantastic, what I’ve gradually found myself more and more interested in is the little things people leave in them. There are your standard bookmarks, of course, which can be hand outs from shops, or bookshops, or the more intricately decorated ones – thick wooden animals that attach to the tops of pages, cross-stitched images laminated in plastic – and these are the silliest of items; things that serve a funtion, that we think we use only because they are useful. Yet, I think they can tell us about a person. I’ve stumbled upon a few bookmarks in the last few days that came from some travelling bookshop in London. I’ve never been there, and I know nothing about it, but it seems pretty popular – and how come so many people have been there? Did these people see each other at some point? Perhaps they know each other? Perhaps they were standing next to each other, perhaps they stood near each other in a queue to buy the book in their hands and they thought the person ahead, or behind, smelt of cinnamon – or of grease, or of flowers, perhaps all of these bookmarks are from the same person – an avid reader? I found a bookmark today that read ‘To Auntie’, in a WWII family fiction novel, and I could almost see that person in my head – or liked to think I could see that person – imagined is the right word, I guess!

But there are other things. Receipts: supermarket receipts for mundane things or exciting things, receipts from the doctors, book receipts, receipts showing how much the person took out via cashback. Tiny things, you’d think, and yet they show how someone navigates through their environment. All veg no meat, all meat no veg, lots of fruit, no fruit, paid with cash – or card, got cashback – has no money in the bank account, has loads of money in the bank account – as mundane as it is, it was or still is part of someone’s story.

The more interesting things include notes from editors discussing the more difficult areas of a narrative, or informing the author that the image plates are complete, typed or penned on small slips of paper marked with the big F’s of Faber & Faber, or Coronet, or the sweeping A of Arrow. Sometimes there are additional pages slipped  in to the text as an editorial aside, a sort of ‘why don’t you try this?’ or perhaps a ‘what should I do?’ from the author – at some point the choice was made and the text became the text we have on our shelves – that finished product – and all those copy versions end up floating from shop to shop not being bought because they might be full of errors, or they are raw around the edges.

What else? Well, last week all of my books were full of love poems and Valentines day cards, and I found myself a little torn up towards the end of the day. What happened here, so soon after Valentines day? Did it not work out? Was the book rubbish and so they chucked it – hoping the other half wouldn’t notice? There were perfume smells, little silver stars and hearts, ‘my heart whimpers when I’m away from you’, ”happy valentines’ or the ambiguous ‘I’m sorry’ – for what? What happened? Who are these people and what lives are they living? Tom Clancy for Valentines – can that be done? Is that allowed? Then there are the general messages; the ‘happy birthdays’ or little messages from kids, or old library books full of ‘Paul McCock’s’ scrawled in felt pen, of ‘hello’s’ in the margins – all these moments colliding, all these memories: dusty tomes with names from the 1900’s – awarded to such-and-such for maintaining the school library, or given to such-and-such for acts of bravery, or in congratulations. Names scrawled under and above and over one another – other names crossed out – phone numbers, addresses there and not-there – sometimes cut from the pages themselves – trimmed at the corners, or the whole page removed.

We put pieces of paper in our books. Off cuts of our work, or stray leaflets, or old receipts. We write messages in them and give them to our friends and we don’t think about it. I never thought about it – and we shouldn’t  start thinking about it, because it’s beautiful. All our innocence there, parts of ourselves we take for granted, parts of ourselves  we think are unimportant – of no importance – and yet, in an odd way, it is the everything of us – the whole of us.

Perhaps I will take this ephemera home with me from now on – all the little extra’s – and take pictures of them to share. Our lives in books, not as books, but withincontained | unconciously placed, or written, or made.

No time to edit through this (like the last few posts), need food – have uni work to do (write poems for tomorrow, presentations for Wednes, mark others poems…) – so be kind with my straying apostrophes and their/they’re/there’s!

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2 thoughts on “On What People Leave in Books”

  1. The travel bookshop in London…was it Daunts? Because they do slip pretty bookmarks in their books to advertise. And it is a beautiful bookshop, I do recommend a visit if you get a chance 🙂
    This is also a fun game to play in Aberystwyth. Frivolous idiot that I am, I have been known to part with cash just to buy a book where I like the dedication!

    1. ‘The travel bookshop in London…was it Daunts?’ – Yes! Yes it was… I will have to visit there when I am in London next! It does look rather nice from the little images on the bookmark!

      ‘I have been known to part with cash just to buy a book where I like the dedication!’ – I bought a Dostoyevsky book whilst walking Hadrian’s Wall because the front pages were filled with notes informing the next reader where and what the best passages were ( in the last readers opinion, of course!). It made it all the more personal – and Dostoyevsky is amazing anyway.

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