ONE OF THE interesting things about used books – that is, books bought secondhand — is that they often bear traces of their former owners. On the negative side, there are the underlinings and notes on the pages themselves, sometimes revealing personal obsessions or preoccupations in the passages marked with exclamation points or double lines. I find these distracting, a form of literary graffiti that is often a desecration of a book.
There are also book plates and dedications on the first pages or inside the cover, such as “To Cindy — Merry Christmas/ Love, Aunt Margaret, 1962.” These dedications are charming and seem to leave a book with traces of living affection.
Then there are bookmarks or other papers, such as store coupons, left in the books themselves. Recently a piece of paper flew out of a used book when I picked it up from a shelf. I absent-mindedly put the paper on my night table. I then came across it later and read it. Written in a trembling hand, it said:
A Possible Prayer
Please, Please Lord heal me, let me live for I have much I desire to do, but if I must die, let it be peaceful and let me go this path with great love.
The page was dated January 19, 1997. As I read it, I felt an uplifting connection with the person who had held the same book, whomever he was and wherever he is. Alive or dead.
— Comments —
Sage McLaughlin writes:
The most interesting thing I ever found in a used book was a movie ticket for A Clockwork Orange (the film was released in 1971-72), which someone had used as a bookmark in his copy of George Orwell’s 1984 (which I picked up and read in the late 1980′s). He was, apparently, a sucker for dystopian science fiction.
The Possible Prayer is very, very touching and left a lump in my throat.
I found the following prayer written on a hand-made bookmark in an old copy of Waugh’s Edmund Campion: “Dieu, dans le temps – cela peut prendre des annees – nous prepare lentement mais surement pour un bonheur a Sa maniere.” With my high school French I get the gist of it but wish I had an accurate translation.
That should be: “God, in time – it can take years – prepares us slowly but surely for happiness in his own way.”