My brother-in-law trolls used-book stores and library sales for first editions. I hunt for mysteries. Not the genre, but the clues that previous owners leave behind. These can be notes in the margins, scraps of paper used as bookmarks, or inscriptions.
I’m fascinated by these messages. Usually I’ll find myself turning back to the inscription while I’m reading the book and wondering about its writer. I have found treasures in used-book stores all over the country. Here are a few of my favorites:
• In a paperback edition of The Red and the Black by Stendhal: 'Kim, I loved this book and I hope you do. I’m watching you put on Chapstick now. Love, Bobb.'
• In The Pine Barrens by John McPhee: '10-31-85: From one Piney to another, never forget the Jersey Devil is real. Happy Halloween.'
• Scrawled on the inside cover of a tattered copy of Hidden San Francisco and Northern California by Ray Riegert: 'To Take: Bathing suit. One pair of shorts or two. Soap—three bars. Insect repellant. Resealable bag. Aspirin. Two small towels.'
• On the title page of a paperback copy of Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger: 'Dear Greg, I hate this so much. Nobody can be the same as you were. Sam is certainly a far cry from you. It’s so hard to hate him. And then I get into this thing with hating Charlie because I sure as Hell don’t want to marry anyone like Sam. I’d cry all the time if I did. You’re so good at reading everything in people. You’re so good. And you’re gone and I really can’t stand it. I did give it a try. I really did. But it’s not at all what it used to be and that hurts so much. It’s not worth it anymore. It’s so ruined and structured and controlled, it’s not there. Where’s a Mellow House and a Promised Land? SEE. DON’T YOU SEE?' The letter continues for another page and is signed: 'I love you, Katie. P.S. All goes for Becky, too.'
• In Border Music by Robert James Waller: 'John, Merry Christmas 1998. This book is coming to you because of the sentence on the book jacket. ‘In this multi-layered, powerful story Waller lets us know with qualification that the dreams we cherish are understood and valued . . . and that the chance we can fulfill them is real.’ Making our dreams come true is the journey of life. Good Luck. Love, Dad.'
• Jotted on the title page of The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand: 'Old man in cafeteria––laidback.'
• Inside The Pocket Book of Great Drawings by Paul J. Sachs: 'Charles, thank you for sticking with me, no matter how awful I was, through the hardest time of my life. You are a true friend. Meg.'
• Inside a paperback edition of 1984 by George Orwell: 'Dear Bun, Here’s one of my favorite books ever, and I think you’ll like it too. Well, start reading it! Love, Bun.'
From The Aesthetic (#7). Subscriptions: $12/yr. (4 issues) from Box 1428, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.