Monday 1 June 2009

The Sarazens head without New-gate: Between the covers

No, unfortunately, this isn't going to be a post about sexy book-selling experiences because I suspect there's no such thing. This post is about the strangest, most interesting, loveliest things I've so far found in books that are for sale in my book shop.

Last year, when I wrote the questions for The Reading Lamp, I gave interviewees the options of describing cool things they've found in books. When I posed that question, I didn't know I was going to buy a bookstore myself and end up finding interesting things all the time myself, or indeed, just how interesting they would be.

At this point, I don't have any photos to show you but I will eventually as an artiste friend of mine is taking the strange treasures I find and photographing them alongside the books I find them in. The idea is that these will form the art work gracing the walls of my shop! For now, though, you'll have to enjoy only the descriptions.

Colleen's List of Favourite Items Found in Shop Books, Part One (because I suspect this will have to be updated regularly)

1. A perfectly preserved, dried purple lily in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Given Dorian's attempts at preserving his youthful beauty, I thought this was both beautifully apropos and a little creepy.

2. A bookmark featuring a bunch of Japanese text I can't read and an angry monkey on a unicycle in The Diary of Anne Frank. I think I find this to be my most mind-blowing find so far because of the surreal contrast between the bookmark and the book. I feel as though I would be incapable of marking my progress with this book with such a bookmark; it would make me feel either guilty or plunged into some kind of self-induced Kafka-esque nightmare.

3. Two Canadian two dollar bills in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The Canadian two dollar bill was retired in 1996, so these bills have been waiting a long time to be found and spent. Can they even be used as legal tender anymore? But the real question is, why hide $4 in a book you're clearly not into enough either to read again (thus discovering the money) or to keep (it came into the shop just this morning)? Speaking of money...

4. One of my first finds after taking over the shop was a $10 Monopoly note in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I feel like this choice of bookmark revealed the reader's true, if subconscious, feelings about this book; indeed, I'm sure there's a Psychology paper to be written on people's choices of bookmarks.

This one didn't end up as part of the art project because it hadn't been conceived yet, and because I thought it would be funny to put the Monopoly money with the real good luck bills we received upon taking over. So, sitting proudly next to two Canadian one dollar bills, one Canadian five dollar bill, one Canadian ten dollar bill, and a Mohawk Nation one dollar bill, is my Monopoly tenner. Even though the Monopoly tenner is there for good luck, we must have a lot more of them as that's the currency my pay cheque comes in every two weeks.

5. A photograph, from 1897, of a family with their French first names written above their heads in a very old copy of Felix Holt (vol. 3 only). The photo was very faded but the inked in names clearly legible still. Everyone wore hats and corsets (when appropriate) and looked stern, to scare the camera out of any thoughts it might have about stealing their souls.

6. A copy of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy bound in a cover meant for Proust's A La Recherche du Temps Perdue. Let me explain exactly how weird this is: I was adding books to inventory and found, hidden in a 10-foot pile, A La Recherche du Temps Perdue in hardcover, no dust jacket. The title and author's name were printed as part of the cloth and board cover.

I started flipping through the book to check its condition and became quickly confused as the text was in English. Flipping to the title page, I saw Sterne credited and a quick read of the first page and search for the all-black page confirmed that this was, in fact, Tristram Shandy. What the hell happened here anyway? How many of these are out there, causing French readers' brains to short circuit?

I'm keeping this one because I think it is absolutely necessary that I walk around looking posh because I appear to be reading Proust in French all the while laughing hysterically because I'm reading one of the funniest books ever written in English.

So, what do you say? What's the most amazing foreign object you've found in a book?


Anonymous said...


Celine said...

Unfortunately, nothing more interesting then an ossified booger. Irish folk must not be prone to leaving objects of interest in books.

What does it say about me that my bookmarks consist mostly of toilet paper? ( aside from the fact that I do most of my reading on the loo)

Heidenkind said...

Nothing, sadly. Although I have found some really funny notes in library books before.

Meytal Radzinski said...

When I flipped through some books from my grandmother's basement (books that haven't been touched in about, oh, 30, 40 years), a small sheet of paper fell out of two, reading:

"This book is one of Collins New Classics and we hope you enjoy reading it. There are over 150 other titles, a number of them suitable for the younger generation, available in either cloth or the alternative presentation Canterbury Binding. Many titles are also available in a lovely Leather Binding.
Not only will you derive immediate pleasure from building your personal library of great books from this series, but, as you collection grows, it will become an ever more precious possession - a veritable treasure of literature.
We shall be very glad to send you a booklet giving particulars of the titles and to add your name to our mailing list. After filling in your name and address, please apply to your local bookseller, or return to--:"

As for your finds, I have a feeling someone will eventually miss that photograph...

verbivore said...

I am so jealous that you own a bookshop!

I once found a love letter from a husband to his wife in a French cookbook. The cookbook was in English but was a translation of a famous French cookbook, and the note was written in French. So I assumed the husband was French and his wife either British or otherwise anglophone. The note was from Christmas 1951, so it had been stuck in there for a long time.

Bookphilia said...

Great stories! I especially love the love letter in the cook book. :)

andrew said...

This is one of my favourite book selling topics. I love your idea of a study of the psychology of bookmarks. My son tends to use scraps of toilet paper to keep his place--which has got to be some kind of Freudian thing and an obvious example of some way I've screwed up his parenting. The most common thing I've found are newspaper and magazine reviews of the book and/or author the clippings were found in, which is weirdly meta when the reviews are quite old. This scrap I wrote about was actually on the back of a review:

J.G. said...

No bookmark tales, but I did buy a very nice copy of Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow at a book sale once, and it was ex-lib from a middle school!

Can you imagine the reaction of the first middle school student/parent/teacher/librarian who discovered this . . . um . . . misapplication?

Bookphilia said...

andrew: your son reads! to me that means you're doing a helluva lot right.

j.g.: that's disturbing and incomprehensible. also, it makes me really happy.