As a kid I didn’t have many friends, but that was okay because I had the library. Every Saturday I’d walk gingerly through the stacks so my tennis shoes wouldn’t squeak and catch the attention of the librarian, who terrified me. She was about 900 years old and wore a jet-black Eva Gabor wig. When she raised a disapproving brow, her forehead wrinkled up under the hair. It was Creepy.
Each week I’d check out the maximum number of books allowed a ten year old, and my favorite book, Cherry Ames, Dude Ranch Nurse, I checked out more than once. Okay, four times, and each time the librarian would wag her skinny finger and say, “Remember, do not deface the books. Other people do not want to see your doodles.”
Despite my early fear of librarians, I still frequent the library, but I no longer go there to borrow books; I go there to buy. Used books are my addiction. Their intoxicating smell—so grandmother’s attic—makes me ten years old again. But the best part is the ephemera left in books by past owners. I’ve found a holy card, an empty condom wrapper, a ticket stub from a James Taylor concert, a PSA Airline ticket, a handwritten recipe for buttermilk biscuits, and one secreted report card. Looking at his grades, I could see why little Eddie hid it. I’ve never actually found a bookmark.
Many of my used books have inscriptions such as the collegiate dictionary I found inscribed: To my darling niece, Linda, on her high school graduation. The inscriptions always close with: all my love, best wishes, or your loving friend.
Nothing mean or sarcastic is ever written in an inscription. You won’t see: Read this diet book—you need it. Used books are happy places, filled with good wishes from good friends.
And, despite the library rules about not defacing books, I’m thankful that book owners disregard the rules. I’m fascinated by the comments people write in the margins, which passages they underlined, which words they highlighted. The best used cookbooks have pages stuck together with bits of old cookie dough. That’s the sign of a really good recipe; though an art book of nudes that had dubious stains and sticky pages would be a bit disconcerting.
One romance novel, though, did have a sticky spot that the prescient reader had circled, and beside it written: strawberry jam. A few pages further on was another circled spot and written beside it: peanut butter. How considerate, I thought.
My husband tells me our house will sink if I bring home any more books, but how could I pass up the Collected Works of Oscar Wilde—for a dime?
Someone once looked at my home library and asked, “Have you read all those books?”
“No, of course not,” I said. “Who wants a library full of books you’ve already read?” I want books I look forward to reading, volumes filled with adventures, mysteries, love stories, and most of all—hand-written notes from new friends.