Books With A Lot In Them

London, Reading & Writing

My mother had a habit of using dried fishbones as bookmarks when she was desperate. Readers leave all sorts of things inside their books, not just inscriptions. Now ‘The Secret History of Second-Hand Books: an Exhibition’ is running at Foyles Bookshop on Charing Cross Road until Thursday 13 December.

Some of the things found inside the books here include ticket stubs, stamps, pressed flowers, cheques, gift vouchers, photos, postcards, business cards, inspirational poems, a child’s handmade card, a hand-drawn map of Kensal Rise cemetery, an ad for Spokes & Son’s Motor Cycle Service, and an itemised bill for rooms 10-11, of the Caledonian Hotel, Callander, circa 1953.

Over the years I’ve found flotsam and jetsam, odds and sods, and one letter from Ronald Searle to his agent in 1955 stuck behind a flyleaf. You don’t get that with a Kindle!

12 comments on “Books With A Lot In Them”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    A really close friend of mine, well okay moi, heavily used the old local library one summer reading Doyle, Wells, Verne and lots, oh lots, of mysteries; Ellery Queen, Carr, Christe, and many others. I’d also learned to make very accurate, neat and small – strange elert; just remember Admin still has a collection of racks, gibbets, etc he made sometimes with his Dad’s help down his shelves – small bookmarks;thirty or so hangman’s nooses created from kite twine. (The first few I used for my own bookmarks.) But then over a period of weeks, I placed the thirty plus nooses in mysteries I had NOT borrowed and re-shelved them. Heh-heh.
    Toward the end of the summer in my eary teens, I was checking out a batch of Nero Wolfes, I think, when I spotted a row of my handiwork taped to the edge of a shelf behind the Librarian at Check Out. My eyes got big.
    “Ahah!” The Librarian lady said: “I suspected you. Your big eyes gave you away.
    “I think it’s amusing, as do a lot of people who bring them back. We have a laugh, but one really old Gentleman has complained. He said it gave him a turn.”
    Needless to say The Hangman of the Stacks retired.
    On topic: I use concert stubs, museum entrance stubs, but the best are boarding passes which now pretty span my whole overseas career.
    Oh, look there on the counter a lovely little piece of twine.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    Few typos up there, but I’ve just been told I should have some forming cataracts removed sooner rather than later to ease my work on the computer. As they say: “Who knew.”

  3. Alan G says:

    I picked up an illustrated copy of the books of innocence and experience from my local second hand book shop. Thought it might be a good gift for my Dad, given that he’d spent so much time subjecting me to Blake in my youth.

    In there was a bookmark from Borders at the World Trade Centre – sort of made me uncomfortable so I still have both.

  4. agatha hamilton says:

    Didn’t W H Auden once, while staying with someone, mark his place in one of their books with a slice of bacon?

  5. Helen Martin says:

    I found a card on which someone was creating a persona for some sort of role playing game, but nothing like the Ronald Searle – presumably it was the agent who left it in the book. The Borders bookmark would have made me feel a little odd, too. One thing about cataracts, Dan, is that you see so much better afterward they say. What will you use for an excuse then?

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    Ha! Cataracts are mild, but growing. There are other areas for improvement or not. And one should never spend too much time on a blog or so my wife insists.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    My husband says the same, Dan.

  8. glasgow1975 says:

    Boarding cards are good, as are metro/tram/train tickets 🙂

  9. Alan G says:

    I dunno Glasgow – I was quite happy to find a book on the Underground. Not only was I after the book (Hannibal) but was quite pleased with the bookmark. A fifty pound note. Naturally I handed both in at the end of my shift. (cough cough)

  10. Helen Martin says:

    I will ignore any sounds of hesitant honesty from Alan’s direction and say that most of my books these days have bus tickets as markers because we are urged to keep tickets handy in case of spot checks (don’t ask)and I haven’t been using transit enough to warrant a monthly pass.

  11. Alan G says:

    Helen – hesitant honesty is a nice phrase. I used discriminative honesty myself. Not right, I know, but clearing the train after midnight on New Year Eve… but I did hand in the carrier bag full of bank notes. Too scared not to.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Clearing the train after New Year’s Eve – now that would certainly be a treasure (?) trove of oddities, I should imagine. A carrier bag full of bank notes sounds like a test.

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