Recently, I came across Michael Popek’s wonderful blog, Forgotten Bookmarks, where he curates the “personal, funny, hearbreaking and weird” things he finds inside the used books he buys and sells. It reminded me of a scene I wrote in my first novel, Literally Everything, in which a husband tries to discover his wife’s mysteries by looking through the books on her shelves, wondering what caused her to save certain items:
He pulled out a dozen or so more, and inside most of them he found some detritus that anchored the book to a particular time or location or person in Fae’s life. A photo of her with her mother. A postcard from a college friend who had gone to study abroad. A business card. She also underlined passages, dog-eared pages, and wrote in margins. Inside a book of poetry by Auden, Fae had written, I adore you. He didn’t know for whom it was meant.
He realized that as well as he knew his wife, there was also a great deal that he didn’t know. Much of her mystery yet unraveled. Perhaps he hadn’t tried hard enough.
That scene was inspired by my own tendency to stick things between pages and forget about them. So after looking at Michael’s found treasures, I decided to flip through a few randomly-selected books in my office. I found something inside more than half of them:
Inside THE LIAR’S CLUB by Mary Karr was a Delta boarding pass for a trip to Denver on June 21, 1996. I remember that trip—it was a great one—but forgot that I’d read that book on the plane.
Almost exactly twenty-four years ago, I’d gone to the now-defunct Meyer Park movie theater to see “The Accused”, “Mystic Pizza”, and “Punch Line.” When I wasn’t at the movies, I was reading ALL THE KING’S MEN by Robert Penn Warren.
A sticky-note inside the back flap of Steinbeck’s EAST OF EDEN means that this book was given to me. Actually it was mailed to me by someone in San Jose, but she didn’t sign her name, and I can’t remember who she was. (Despite what Alice Weiser says about handwriting and gender, this looks too girly to be from a man.)
My father wrote a note to himself on the inside flap of one of my favorite books, ROUND THE BEND, by Nevil Shute. I’d forgotten that he was the one to give it to me. And we’d both forgotten what it was like to imagine RAM cache being expandable to a whopping 256K.
Inside a copy of Proust’s UN AMOUR DE SWANN, which I bought in Paris in 1997, I found my UofH ID card. Good thing I never misused the board plan—I spent all my extra money on books.
There were leaves drying in the middle of Poe’s poem, “The Bells”, but I have to idea why or how long they’d been there. Same is true for another half dozen books.
A receipt from July 6, 2008 from Buca di Beppo in Houston inside my friend Dave’s copy of THE BOOKS OF RACHEL by Joel Gross, which I still haven’t read. (Sorry, Dave, I’ll return it eventually.)
Receipt from the wonderful bookseller, Bookstop, which is sadly no longer part of Houston’s literary landscape. I bought PRICKSONGS AND DESCANTS by Robert Coover on January 2, 1995.
Apparently I’d gone east to get WEST WITH THE NIGHT by Beryl Markham as evinced by a 1999 calendar bookmark from Tower Books in Philadelphia.
Inexplicably, there was a business card for Maps of Texas in Austin inside A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess.
I wondered where my student pilot certificate went! It was safely tucked inside my Private Pilot Manual all along.
The most surprising find of the day was the photo of the young man, John Williams, who gave me my first broken heart. It was, appropriately, tucked into the pages of DOMESTIC REVOLUTIONS by Steven Mintz and Susan Kellogg. I kept all the other mementos, but this one I didn’t mind throwing away. In fact, I rather enjoyed it.