Used Books, Their Stories

I confess, I have a complicated approach to book buying. For books by living poets, if they are not Rock Star Poets, I usually buy directly from the press. For Rock Star Poets (I'm talking about the folks who publish with the big publishing houses, in hardcover), I will usually go to my friendly neighborhood independent bookseller. For fiction, I use the library, or occasionally, will buy a paperback from almost anywhere. For other things -- books I want to have around for the kids between the semi-annual birthday and Christmas books, books on writing craft, reference and art books, etc. -- I will often buy used over the internet, looking for a book in decent condition at a decent price.

I did just that last week and ended up with used copies of Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People (25 cents from Goodwill of Los Angeles!!!) and poemcrazy: freeing your life with words.

Both books were inscribed. Talking to the Sun bears on its flyleaf an inscription from mother to child in 1986, a very heartfelt inscription. I cringed to think of all the beautiful books I've purchased and inscribed for my children ending up at the Goodwill in L.A. Although, I learned early on from my firstborn to keep it short. As a toddler, he would wave his hands at me when I was talking to him and say, "too many words! too many words!"

Then there is poemcrazy, which has these words on the inside front cover (names omitted):

"Dear X, May our love be like a poem, a novel in three short lines. Full of meaning, passion, and understanding...eternal. Love, Y."

Poor Y! He pours his heart out to his love, and it ends up at the Friends of the Library annual book sale! I'm dying to know if X hesitated before deciding to unload poemcrazy. I mean, there are a lot of good writing exercises in it. I can see crossing out the inscription with a very thick Sharpie, but I don't know... I've kept the coffee bean grinder from my grad school boyfriend all these years and it still works great (thank you, Andrew, wherever you are)!

Anyway, these two books with their inscriptions that have become 'letters to the world' have had me thinking about the lives of books, their stories, the way they pass through lives and circulate in the world, leaving one home and finding another. I feel the same way when I check out a library book -- I wonder where the book was last, what secrets it might know. I realize I'm anthropomorphizing here, but it's part of the fun of used books for me.

Do you have any good used book stories to share? I would love to hear them.


sarah said...

i think about that too -- about the lives of books, the hands they passed through. once i purchased a book from this cool used bookstore in kentucky. it had a ton of signatures in the covers, and the point of the book was to read it, sign it, and pass it on. i forget what the message of the book itself actually was, but the idea of all those names stayed with me long after i passed it on.

drew said...

I used to make thoughtful inscriptions in all the books I gave as gifts. But I love sharing books so much — and assume others do too — that I have stopped inscribing them. Seems to a compliment (to the author) to gift and re-gift a book -- although buying multiple copies would be an even better (monetary) gift to the author.

drew said...

p.s. So glad you got poemcrazy. That book that always puts the fun back in my writing life.

Molly said...

Thanks everyone who shared stories. I had a few great ones come in via e-mail, too. I also love the idea of passing books along.... .