Saturday, December 20, 2008

You Never Know What You’ll Find in a Book

Essay

By HENRY ALFORD


We may never fully understand what prompts people to leave unusual objects inside books. I speak of the slice of fried bacon that the novelist Reynolds Price once found nestled within the pages of a volume in the Duke University library. I speak of the letter that ran: “Do not write to me as Gail Edwards. They know me as Andrea Smith here,” which the playwright Mark O’Donnell found some years ago in a used paperback. I speak of any of those bizarre objects — scissors, a used Q-tip, a bullet, a baby’s tooth, drugs, pornography and 40 $1,000 bills — that have been discovered by the employees of secondhand bookstores, according to The Wall Street Journal and AbeBooks.com. Mystery surrounds these deposits like darkness.

But the motives of some depositors — the novelist David Bowman, for instance — are knowable. “I was cleaning out a drawer and thought, Let’s do something with this,” Bowman said of the day four years ago when he stumbled upon all of the rejection letters from agents and editors about his first novel, “Let the Dog Drive” (1993). “Some of the letters were nasty,” he said in a phone interview. So Bowman scooped them up, tucked them in between the pages of a first edition of the book and sold the noxious bundle to the Strand, New York City’s famous used-book store. “It was very liberating,” Bowman said. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

Bowman’s quest for vengeance is on the far end of the book-stuffing spectrum. More commonly, the stuffers are trying to create an aide-mémoire for themselves. “I have filled books with flowers I’ve received, to save the ­flowers in dried form and to remember the happy moment of receiving them,” Anne Rice said in an e-mail message. After Wayne Koestenbaum interviewed Vanessa Redgrave at a hotel bar about her role in the movie “Mrs. Dalloway,” he took Redgrave’s lipsticky napkin and placed it in the paperback copy of the novel he’d brought with him. That Redgrave’s lipstick traces might have besmirched his book seems not to have fazed him. “I might have also taken her swizzle stick,” he confessed.

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1 comment:

Asad Zaidi said...

Dear Rajesh,

Thanks for posting this.

I admire the range of your interests and the choices you make while acting them out. It is a pleasure to visit your page.

Asad