I recently paid a visit to a local bookstore. I don’t visit them too often these days because I generally can be content with borrowing my reading material from the library (yeah, I know, go figure) but this was a huge sale and who can resist a bargain, right? We made our selections, mostly things the junior member of the household—who holds an advanced degree in manipulation—begged for. Her beautiful little face threatened to become tear streaked because we were talking about a copy of Llama Llama Misses Mama for her very own (oh, and a bunch of Disney Princess paperbacks she knew better than to mention) and she actually said, “aren’t books the most important thing in the world to buy?” This is how I found myself buying more than I intended because truly, she can beg for a lot of things she’s not going to get (ponies, a BB gun, television in her room, a Mustang) but she’ll get a book every time she asks. The pain was lessened by the very pleasant woman at the cash register who chatted so knowledgeably about books. Then she surprised me by saying that she was not looking forward to using the library once she was unemployed because library books “creeped” her out. Turns out, she’s got a thing about handling books other people have used. “You would not believe what people do to books and then try to return them to us,” she told me, shaking her head sadly.
Well, I would believe it because I’ve seen some strange things in books. In every library system I have ever worked (six to date), I have kept a big envelope on my desk with all the stuff found in returned books. Let me tell you, it is staggering. There are the usual things—money, postcards, fancy bookmarks, dried flora—and then there are the surprising things. It’s astonishing how many people use their financial documents and family photos for bookmarks. I once found a letter from the author (dead, highly collectible) tucked in between the flyleaf and the cover. I’ve also found personal hygiene products, a bag of stuff I’m going to believe was parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, but that we flushed anyway, and one heartbreaking letter someone wrote to her mother, detailing the breakdown of her marriage. I’m not the only person in the world to do this. Richard Davies has posted his own list.
Of course, along with finding interesting things in books I have handled items that are returned reeking of cigarette smoke, stained with what I will choose to believe is apple juice, or are full of sand. As the DCPL budget is now so tight the idea of starting an e-book collection is just a grand dream. I’m hoping everyone who shares the collection with everyone else in DeKalb County will remember that these are borrowed books, CDs, DVDs and magazines and will take a moment to shake out the sand, clean off the spaghetti sauce and fan the pages to remove personal items before bringing the items back. Maybe then we can lure in folks like the lady at the bookstore.