When I see a book with pages turned down, or with scribbling inside, anything that hints at a disrespect for the written word, I have a visceral reaction so strong that I am filled with nausea. Since I consider a book to be a living, breathing entity, seeing a book defaced in any way feels like a violent act. To me, books are sacred. Some, more than others. But they are all holy gifts, pieces and shards of someone’s soul, of their deepest pain, their brightest thoughts, their greatest loves. On paper. Preserved. Shamelessly shared.
And yet… one of my greatest delights is the second-hand book. The more the previous reader leaves of herself in it, the better. I am a fan of all the little clues she leaves for me of who she is, what she was thinking, what was going on in her life when she read this, and more importantly, what impact this book had on her life. These clues are only possible if it she left it dog-eared, perhaps left scraps of paper between the pages, and of course, underlined text, and made notes in the margins. If she has done these things, I have a reading companion, one who will not interrupt me, but with whom I can murmur, “oh, what a delicious turn of phrase”, “Interesting take on the situation, don’t you think?”, and “Wow. I’d never thought of it that way before…”
Right now I’m reading a book I picked up at a garage sale. It’s a paperback, but tastefully done. Right across the top it says The National Bestseller. It’s called Follow Your Heart, by Susanna Tamaro. I had never heard of her. But the cover piqued my interest, enough to hand over a well-worn quarter, and clutch my new find to my chest in joy. The only artwork on the cover is a sketch of a window, with little blue shutters, a white curtain shimmying in the breeze, and a window box below it, filled with little pink and white flowers. Above Susanna’s name is this: “It was a gift from one woman to another – a confession that could set them both free…” I had to read that book.
It was only when I was back in the car that I discovered the real treasure. As I flipped through the pages, a piece of golden paper danced, like a tired Autumn leaf, to the floor. I picked it up. An airline ticket. Ted Bowers traveling Economy Plus from San Francisco to Honolulu via United Airlines Jan. 17th, Seat 24A – window seat. He travelled at 8:20 a.m. Doesn’t say what year. As I open the book to replace the ticket, I notice that someone wrote in the book. I was just getting used to the idea that a man was the reader of this book when I see the handwriting. It is definitely not a man’s handwriting. It is clearly a woman. Not only is the delicate slant from a woman’s hand, but the comments are distinctly feminine as well. Ah, a kindred spirit. She and I will surely enjoy this book together.