First, a shout out to Erik Kwakkel for opening my mind to the possibilities of marginalia.
Working through my summer reading list, I’ve encountered a few old books, namely
From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne, printed 1966
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré, printed 1975
A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie, printed 1953
Thoughts on Old Books by Jay E. Books are like wines and cheeses: they’re better aged. Like certain furniture styles, not just aged, but distressed. Well-worn covers, falling apart at the seams, held together by hope and scraps of binding tape or hardened bits of glue. Not-quite-blank first pages, left empty by the publisher, filled in by a succession of owners, give glimpses - small hints and clues – to the history of those pages. With luck, exquisite ex libris plates bearing the name of one long passed whose legacy yet lives on; what better legacy than the power of the written word? Title pages with weight and meaning, some fantastic works of art, others equally fantastic for their simplicity – the end result of dedicated typographers and skilled typesetters. The quirks of printing: typefaces not seen in decades, pages printed at a slant, chapter headings and divisions once the norm now oddities. Above all, the smell: that heady mix of dust and must and decaying paper and ageing ink. It almost hurts to breathe it in, yet like an addict we return again and again, imbibing in our drug of choice.
Consider these pages from my copy of A Pocket Full of Rye:
I theorize this was its first home.
How long did it stay there?
Was it bought or stolen or did someone simply forget to return it?
How long did each owner keep it?
How many owners did it have?
Who, exactly, is . . .
is that her phone number, or someone else’s?
Did she own the book and give the number in case it was lost?
Did she write her number for an admirer on the only paper available?
Robert Willis, and
how does he fit in to all this?
To me, his name seems like a young lady’s doodling.
Especially since his name appears on multiple pages.
Sometimes the best questions are those to which there are no answers.
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