Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Used-book bookmark serendipity

Strange artifacts from other people’s lives

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.

The images on the stamps are classic Soviet art – chiseled, idealized athletes, two female, two male, participating in track-and-field events: sprint, pole vault, high jump, hurdles. Even if these stamps were created in the 1980s, there is a serious 1930s feel to the images.

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.

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Blogger Tillerman said...

Hmmm. Don't you have a good friend who used to be a pole vaulter and who has many cats? I know he didn't go to the 1980s Olympics but can this be more than a coincidence?

Fri Jan 07, 07:31:00 AM MST  
Blogger O Docker said...

Books are like a box of chocolates.

You have to be careful if they've been previously opened.

And you've found yet another reason why e-books will never completely replace the printed page.

Fri Jan 07, 09:37:00 AM MST  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Zorro says he was given a set of those same stamps as sort of a consolation prize for making the team but then not going to the Olympics. They're framed on his wall, though, rather than being tucked into a book. As far as I know, he's never been to Pagosa Springs.

Fri Jan 07, 04:37:00 PM MST  
Blogger Tillerman said...

Interesting. Maybe the stamps you found were given to another member of the team, who didn't value them as highly as Zorro.

In the late 70's I worked with two young men who had aspirations as Olympic sailors. (I wasn't a sailor myself back then.) Both were selected for their national teams, one for Ireland and one for Great Britain.

The British boycotted the 1980 Olympics. The Irish didn't. My Irish friend won the silver medal in the Flying Dutchman class.

Sat Jan 08, 02:11:00 PM MST  
Blogger O Docker said...

The stamps in your photos seem to bear postmarks in the corners.

If so, that would indicate they'd been 'used', no? If stamps had been given as a commemorative gift, wouldn't they have been free of such marks?

Sat Jan 08, 07:15:00 PM MST  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Tillerman, I was in England that year, and the British team as a whole didn't boycott the games, but individual athletes were given a choice to participate or not. I remember watching the games on the BBC.

O Docker, yes, I noticed the postmarks. I don't know whether Zorro's set has postmarks. The other weird thing is that the stamps were clearly not together with each other when they were postmarked, but they were reunited later -- you can see from the perforations that they were all from the bottom edge of the sheet of stamps. Or maybe they weren't even all from the same sheet; I don't know about Soviet stamps, but U.S. stamps on a sheet are all the same denomination. For that matter, U.S. stamps on a sheet, even from the bottom row, have perforations on all sides, since there's a row of blanks at the very bottom.

The mystery deepens. Meanwhile, there's still also the unsolved mystery of the Erromango boy's death.

Sun Jan 09, 01:23:00 AM MST  
Blogger O Docker said...

Have googled a bit more about this.

Apparently, it's common for 'first day covers' of stamps to be issued, postmarked from a significant location (in this case, Moscow). These might be from such a source. I found other images of these stamps online, with Moscow postmarks placed precisely in the corners as on your examples.

Sun Jan 09, 01:35:00 AM MST  
Blogger Tillerman said...

Carol Anne, your memory of 1980 is better than mine. Actually I think some individual British sports federations decided to join the boycott (which was requested by the British government.) I'm 99% certain that the powers-that-be in British sailing decided to boycott and no British sailing team went to those games.

Sun Jan 09, 06:44:00 PM MST  
Blogger Tillerman said...

Talking of commemorative items for events that weren't supposed to exist, my mother owned a teaspoon to commemorate the coronation of Edward VIII (who was king for a few months in 1936 before he abdicated, but there was never a coronation.)

I see that the US also issued stamps to celebrate the 1980 Olympic Games (before they decided they didn't exist.)

Sun Jan 09, 09:16:00 PM MST  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

O Docker, yes, my dad collects stamps, and he has first-day covers for all U.S. stamps issued since the mid-1950s. Usually those are put on special commemorative envelopes before being mailed, and they usually are kept attached to the envelopes.

But maybe in the Soviet Union, the stamps weren't attached to any special sort of envelope, so just the postmark was what counted. Still, getting only just a corner of the postmark kind of defeats the purpose of a first-day-of-issue mailing.

Tillerman, I believe you are right that some sports federations decided to boycott, even if the U.K. as a whole didn't.

Mon Jan 10, 03:17:00 AM MST  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Programming note: FWIW, Visitor #89K was somebody in an unknown location in the Central time zone, looking up a white Russian recipe.

Tue Jan 11, 11:03:00 PM MST  

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