postscript || The Imagined Previous Life of What I Loved, Which is Stained by Something I Don’t Bother Identifying

So, like a lot of my books, I found this one in a BookSale. In fact, Hustvedt has become one of those authors that I have to rely on bargain bins for. Either overstocks or previously-owned, these books have gone through lives of their own before they came to me. Which brings us to this picture:

That’s a shot of the inside of the cover of my copy of What I Loved [click for my thoughts], Siri Hustvedt’s novel. I had to think of a story, had to imagine a previous life. And then, well, I did some fact-checking:

There’s an “Ashland Park” in Illinois, but I don’t think a subdivision would lovingly fold p.36 — and I wonder still: Did the previous owner ever read on from that page? Maybe the previous owner had lived in Ashland Park? Or maybe the book belonged to someone in Ashland Park? But, well, why not write one’s name? Why so redundant? Do subdivision offices have libraries? Oh, and there’s also an “Ashland Park” in South Carolina that calls itself “the only destination” for both business and pleasure. Cliche aside, the place looks neat. But it’s on a road named St. Andrews. And the address, 1645 Ashland. What’s happening here? There’s a hair salon in 1645 N. Ashland Avenue and — wait for it — it’s in Chicago. And and and urgh, yes, never mind.

I was really hoping it was, I dunno, Ashkid Park from 1645 Auckland. A person. See, the book’s gone through a lot of handling. There’s that stain, for one. And you know how books get, uh, bloated from its bindings. That it’s not-so-compact, but almost fluffy. And wonderfully easy to read because the book falls open with the least resistance? I was hoping all that had been the result of one person reading this lovingly, without concern for being all-uptight about preserving the new-book look. I’m not anymore sure so much, though.

I’ve been thinking, for quite some time now, about putting up a post about these inscriptions — evidence of previous lives, marginalia, dedications. In take note of these if I find them, citing them in my notebook. I have photos. It’s a weird little hobby. In our more sentimental forays into BookSale, P. and I would go home with books if only for these inscriptions. I’ve done stories and vignettes concerning dedication, forgotten bookmarks, inscriptions. So, yeah, I ought to write about this in here, soon.

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16 comments

  1. I would love to read more of your thoughts on used books. I really enjoy such “imagined histories” of where the book has been before. Especially when you can imagine a single person loving a book to bits and knowing you’re the next person to hopefully appreciate it as much as he or she did.

    1. Thank you, Iris. I want there to come a time where I’ve tracked down someone and s/he says something like, “I thought I’ve lost that book forever.” But that’s the uber-cinematic side of me, really, haha. And I’m really interested in the story of letting go. Someone obviously loved you enough to write those words — so how come it ended up in my shelves? Just really really curious. :]

  2. I read one last year from a man to his new bride! Gotta find out which book it was in…

    1. What strikes me about touching inscriptions on books is the possible story behind why it was let go. So many stories, really. I have this book, an anthology of stories, anecdotes, poems about fathers, given by a daughter to her dad. And, well, now it’s with me. I’ve always found these things sad.

  3. I wrote about used book inscriptions here, and I agree with you: They’re absolutely charming and intriguing. You should definitely post some of the inscriptions and bookmarks! Sadly, the growing popularity of ebooks are eventually going to eliminate these treasures.

    1. Thank you for the link. :) When I give away books [and I know this is a not-so-nice though], a part of me hopes that when the recipient decides, for whatever reason, to let the book go, the book will find it’s way to someone who’ll be as intrigued about inscriptions as I am now.

      Or even the books already on my shelves. I know which one are inscribed. One even has a whole letter written in the title page. Some books have bookmarks whose meanings make sense only to me.

  4. Love those. Like that previous owner of your book, I jot down the place where I purchased a book from, especially when it’s some place I don’t usually frequent.

    My fave inscription from a book I acquired is in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, where the giver wrote.. “For your beautiful soul.”

    Looking forward to more of these from you..

    1. Hm. I’ve never noted where I bought — maybe even read — the book. It’s never occurred to me, really. The most I do is write the date after my name.

      And that’s a wonderful inscription. I think a part of me is scared to be as earnest and schmaltzy, so I usually write, “Yo,” especially when I feel so strongly, haha.

  5. I love investigating the inside of my used books – great post! :)

    1. Thank you so much. Sometimes I feel that the stories in the inscriptions could match the content of the actual book. :]

  6. Great idea for a post. I love buying used books with inscriptions, bookplates, and/or scribbled notes. I’ve bought a few with little treasures inside: a love note, a pressed flower, and lots of shopping lists.

    1. Thanks, Violet. I’m glad I’m not the only one with the fascination for a book’s previous life. I think, well, it helps to have someone “on your side” when you’re justifying a purchase with “But there’s a drawing of a chicken on page 241!”

    2. Oh. PS. Have you been to Forgotten Bookmarks? It’s run by a shop owner who takes pictures and writes about, well, forgotten bookmarks of old books that come into his shop. He even once found a picture of himself with his family, and he hadn’t known it was him at the beginning, :)

  7. I google the names I find in bargain books too!

    :)

    1. A part of me still hopes that I can contact someone and send the book out to them again, if they want it. Or at least learn the story of why they let the book go.

  8. [...] 2010 Reads ← postscript || The Imagined Previous Life of What I Loved, Which is Stained by Something I Don’… [...]

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