Used-book bookmark serendipity
Pat and I seldom buy new books anymore. Partly it’s because we’re in a state of financial austerity, but even if we had plenty of money, we have found that used-book stores and thrift shops offer far better deals on reading material.
One side effect of buying used books is that sometimes there’s something extra in the book. Someone will read a book, or part of a book, and will use something as a bookmark that is subsequently forgotten, and so when the book goes to the charity donation bin or used-book store, the bookmark is left buried among the pages.
Sometimes the bookmark isn’t all that exciting. I will often find airline boarding passes as bookmarks in mass-market paperbacks, for example. The scenario behind that sort of bookmark is fairly obvious – so-and-so bought a copy of The Da Vinci Code to read on her flight from Albuquerque to Newark, she used the boarding pass as a bookmark, she read the book, and then when she was done (or gave up on it partway through), she decided she didn’t need to keep it.
Other bookmarks can be more interesting. A couple of years ago, one of my fellow participants in National Novel Writing Month was the proprietor of a used-book store. She had all sorts of tales to tell of what she had found within the pages of books that have come into her establishment. Her NaNo novel that year was based on one such intriguing item.
One interesting bookmark that I found was in a softcover copy of Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, which I picked up at the Pagosa Springs Humane Society thrift shop. This was a newspaper clipping from a newspaper in the South Pacific island of Vanuatu, giving details about the death of a young man on one of the lesser islands in the island group. The headline was “Erromango Boy’s, a Mystery.” The article – actually more of a news brief – detailed how the body of an island native (who was called a “boy” even though he was 27 years old) had been found alongside a road, a victim of a hit-and-run car crash. The brief quoted the island constable as saying the victim was “more than dead.” In the margin of the clipping, someone had written “I thought dead was all you could be.”
Now, there are many questions that could arise about this, such as, how does a newspaper clipping from a Vanuatu newspaper end up in a book for sale in the Pagosa Springs Humane Society Thrift Shop? Who clipped the article? How did she come to be in Vanuatu? How can I meet this person, who is obviously interested in language and usage, and who also seems to have the ability to travel to obscure places around the globe?
My most recent intriguing bookmark also came in a book from the Pagosa Springs Humane Society. A very long time ago, I bought an omnibus edition of three of Cleveland Amory’s books: The Cat Who Came for Christmas, The Cat and the Curmudgeon, and The Best Cat Ever. For several years, that book has sat on my shelf, waiting for me to have time to read it. A week ago, finally, I did.
Tucked into the book, marking T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Naming of Cats,” was a bookmark consisting of a strip of postage stamps, laminated together. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be all that big of a deal. But these stamps were from the old Soviet Union, commemorating the 1980 Olympics, which the United States had boycotted, and which many other nations either boycotted or allowed athletes to decide whether to boycott, to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Since these stamps were about an event that Americans were supposed to pretend didn’t even exist, it’s a mystery how they ended up in a book of cat tales in a thrift shop in southwestern Colorado.