In Which the Author Confesses her Crime

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Dear Readers,

I have a confession to make: I am guilty of a small crime. I only hope you find it charming and that you don’t abandon your well-meaning but overly-zealous book-hunting correspondent.

Last week I walked into a large second hand bookshop in the south-west. I’m afraid I can’t be more specific than that lest my confession is whispered into the wrong ears. I roamed through aisles of bookshelves, looking for the good and interesting secondhand books in the sea of mass market paperbacks. The hidden gems are always there and I welcome the challenge.

I picked up a tattered old hardcover book (which I shouldn’t name) and was turning the the thick, yellowing pages when a small piece of paper fluttered out. I knelt down to pick it up and read the little note that had lovingly been tucked into this book.

Some time ago, judging from the name ‘Neville’ and the fragility of the paper, a sister used this funny little book as a means of transporting a feeling, a thought, to a loved one.

The note reads, ‘Neville, Dad’s copy of S.C.C.C. Handbook, thought you might enjoy it,’ followed by a swooping signature I can’t quite make out but for some reason am supposing is female.

Now, I know this note wasn’t meant for me. But it was meant for someone who would know what it meant. Someone who would understand that within the brittle, yellowing pages of an old book, a human life can be deposited, memories can sit and collect, waiting to be opened up and brought back to life with startling force. Maybe Neville wasn’t that person, and when he was clearing out his cluttered house he didn’t keep a piece of his family history. I prefer to think that he did understand, and kept the book in a place of honour, even if he never read it himself, because it meant something. I don’t know how old this note is, so maybe Neville is long dead and it’s the original owner’s grandchildren who sent it to its new home here in this bookshop.

The truth doesn’t really matter. What means most to me is the way this simple note, tucked into this little book, opens up infinite possibilities for stories happy and sad. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I believe that human lives are bound up with books. We move through chapters in our lives, turn over new leaves, impose narrative structure on random events and aspire to happy endings. I know this note wasn’t meant for me. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to be part of the story. So, selfishly leaving the book itself to wait for the next browser, who, I know, will now get less out of it, I tucked the note into my pocket and took it home with me.

I just can’t help it; I love a good story. I hope you won’t judge me too harshly.

 

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13 responses to “In Which the Author Confesses her Crime

  1. A beautiful little story and a lovely post.

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  2. I’m reading The Book Thief at the moment. I much prefer your version.

    The only similar thing I’ve had to this was in buying a long-forgotten graphic novel off e-Bay which I friend of mine did some of the drawing for. I got it really cheap (couple of quid?) and discovered when I received it that it was signed in silver pen by Neil Gaiman; one of the authors.

    I too tried to create a backstory as to how it might have arrived in my hands. Surely the book’s real owner who got it signed can’t be the one who sold it, or they’d have known, so had they died and someone else was selling off their stuff? Interesting to consider such a mystery.

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  3. What a lovely story and post!

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  4. I also like to read the little notes that were written on the inside cover or flyleaf when the books were originally given as gifts. Lots of intriguing stories there, too. Lovely post!

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  5. I’m so glad you rescued that little note. You did the right thing. 🙂

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  6. Wonderful! I love it that you kept the note.The inscriptions we find in discovered books have always intrigued me. I have a book called Chatterbox, 1898, and the inscription reads: From Mamma to Audrey, Xmas, 1898. The book is falling apart but I will never let it loose from my hands. Illustrations are exquisite and the layout done at that time beats anything I’ve seen to date.

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  7. jaggedwithsophistication

    I bought an old Baedeker guide last year. 1899 I believe, Northern Italy. It belonged to a man named Charles M. Tooke. He’s made notes in margins, using one of those old fashioned pens. On the 30th of July, of some year, he stayed at the Hotel Grande, in Venice. I wonder who he was.

    So I for one do not condemn you! The note might have been thrown away by whomever bought the book next. You’ve saved a piece of someone’s life.

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  8. You have saved the note and shared the story with the rest of us! That displays a true appreciation of books and stories. Ok, maybe the writer of the note would have preferred it to remain private, but then again, maybe not. I like your proposed history and feel almost inspired to write a short story based on all this.

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  9. I would quite possibly have done the same, better that little piece of someone’s life is with somebody who will get something out of it than someone who won’t recognise it for what it is and would just chuck it away.

    I have something of a project where I collect discarded parts of people’s lives, wedding invitations, theatre tickets and the like. There’s no real reason for it, just thatI like the feeling of having a window into other lives!

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  10. How about printing out this post and storing it with the rescued note so that future generations will know where it came from and not try to fit the note into your family history.

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  11. No judgements passed and great that you shared this anecdote (and imagined past possibilities)!

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  12. Lovely. I might have been tempted to take it too or leave it there in the hope that the next person to pick up the book would be just as tickled to find the note. What are you going to do with it? Send it on another journey or let it send you on one?

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  13. Love that story!

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