Monday, November 28, 2011

An Ode to Secondhand Books

I've always wondered how books reach my favorite secondhand bookstore. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad that someone out there decided to give up their copy of Anna Karenina which I now own, but these books always lead me back to the same question. Why?

There are certain books, like my copies of The Awakening by Kate Chopin and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, that were obviously used for school. Scribbles, asterisks, and underlines abound in the pages of these books. I know marginalia drives some people crazy, but I love them. I feel like I'm in a classroom discussing classics I might not love but find fascinating nonetheless.

Others contain more personal messages within their pages. 'Daisy, I hope you enjoy this. It's one of my favorite classics. Love, Carl' is written on the first page of my copy of Willa Cather's My Antonia. I wondered about Daisy and Carl. Were they just friends or was there something more? Why did Daisy give away something that seemed to mean a lot to Carl? What happened to these people?

I will probably never know what happened to Daisy and Carl, or how The Awakening's previous owner fared in his or her class. The people who owned my books will always be faceless phantoms to me, and, because of that, they will never fail to fascinate me. That, for me, is the magic of secondhand books.

16 comments:

Trish said...

I'm not fond of writing in the pages but I do love the worn and dog-eared feel of a well loved book and the story it tells. I imagine it being carried around and read in coffee shops, on park benches, or the subway, thrown into a bag, handed to a friend, clutched in love or tossed in disgust. Used books are little parts of our lives, aren't they? I love them.

Nymeth said...

A lovely post which reminded me of something that happened just the other day. I started reading Postcard from No Man's Land, which I bought while visiting Chester last year, and noticed it had a stamp on the corner from Banter Books in Alnwick. This is a huge second hand bookshop in the North East of England, quite some distance from Chester, which I happen to also have visited a few months ago. So of course I started wondering about my book's journey, and the fact that it had been sold at two used bookshops so distant from each other and yet had found its way to me. I wonder who bought it, who took it where, and what they thought of it. It's impossible to know, of course, but it's fun to speculate :)

o said...

LOVE this post, it's exactly what I was thinking about last night when I wrote mine. Hoping I might get to a charity shop or something today, not bought a book in AGES.

I once saw a book with "Finally I've found you the perfect book!" written in. Guessing it wasn't the perfect book if it ended up in a charity shop! :)

My best finds were a 1905 copy of Purgatorio, which probably isn't worth much, but it had a tram ticket for a book mark from I think the 1920s, so I loved that. Also, found a copy of The Hobbit, which I looked up and it might be worth a little more than I paid for! This will be the first time I've deliberately bought something because I thought it might have more value, don't intend to make a habit of it (nearly wrote "make a hobbit of it" there!) but it's kind of exciting :)

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Oh, yes. I love the imagined lives of secondhand books before they find their way to me.

There's a book out in the US right now whose name eludes me, but it's got bookmarks on the cover and the entire book is dedicated to things found in second hand books by the owner of one particular bookshop.

Allie said...

I love finding treasures in old books. :) I have some of my grandmother's old books from the 30s and 40s. Most of them are hardcover and they have her writing in them, which I love. As I was flipping through one day, I found a love letter from my grandfather. While it was a little awkward, it was also incredibly touching and a wonderful memento!

Zibilee said...

I love used bookstores and finding special things inside the books that I buy. It isn't often that I come across a message in a book that I've bought, but when I do, the book becomes all the more precious to me. This was a lovely post, Darlyn. I need to get out there to the used bookshop and see what I can find!

Laura said...

I love secondhand books so much (not least because they're cheaper!) but it makes me so so sad when I find a book with a personal message written in it in a secondhand bookshop- I once found a poetry book with a message in it that said 'Thank you for being my bridesmaid', and it just about broke my heart thinking about what had happened so that bridesmaid lady wanted to give it away... *sigh*. But still, yay to secondhand books!

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I love it when there is a personal message or annotations in second hand books. I always write in my own books and hope one day that they will find their way to new owners who will wonder who I am...

Aarti said...

Oh, I love used books for exactly this reason. Some books look like brand-new, and some have clearly been read multiple times. I always try to imagine the previous readers of the books, too. And in the library, I always try to pick up books that I don't think have been checked out in a while, as I feel so bad for them.

mooderino said...

i expect daisy murdered carl using the book you now own. But of course she got away with it because she cleverly disposed of the murder weapon through a secondhand bookshop.

mood
Moody Writing
@mooderino
The Funnily Enough

bibliophilica said...

Great post, Darlyn!
I feel a similar way about books I buy at my library's periodic sales. Some of course may be donated to them for sale, but others may just be withdrawn from the library's circulation, and it's fun to speculate how many hands have held them, where they've journeyed, how many bedside tables they've inhabited, etc.

It's rare that I've found any personal inscriptions or items for bookmarks, but those are always intriguing as well.
-Jay

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I adore visiting used book stores. Every book in them has some story and I love exploring those shelves so much more than brand new bookstores. I have so many books that I bought in tiny shops on my vacations and they mean so much to me.

Jenna said...

Such a great post! Used bookstores are like a second home for me. I can't pass one without at least popping in for a minute. There is definitely a special feeling I get when surrounded by so many books, each with a unique story and journey. Sometimes I wish each book came with its own provenance like artwork.

Dani said...

I write my name in my books (and am a fan of marginalia) because I hope someone picks them up from a secondhand shop one day. One of the books I read for class this semester had a woman's name, class of 1984, on the inside cover, and I couldn't stop thinking about what her class on this might have been like.
really enjoyed this post!

Rachel said...

I adore second hand books. The knowledge that someone loved and cared for it before me is a wonderful one. I'm not a fan of books that are written all over but I do love the discovery of a little note in the front page. I also love giving books to second hand stores, especially charity shops. Knowing once I've finished a book that someone else may come to love it feels good too and helping out a local shop is just a bonus.

Caro said...

Gorgeous post. I, too, love secondhand books and the stories they can tell. I once bought a collection of books on every one of which the previous owner had written a single word to describe it. Comparing my impressions to his/her made me feel as if I were reading it right along with this person.

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