Sunday, December 03, 2006

The book mark

At the moment I am reading a book published by the University of Kansas Press in 1965. I first looked for this book a couple of years ago and had given up ever finding a copy, but last time I looked on Abebooks a Wisconsin bookshop claimed to have one, so I sent an email and within a few weeks it arrived at my door. Sometimes I think of its journey. It still seems like a small miracle. It is marvellous to me that a book that has presumably been lying in a bookshop for many years forgotten and unregarded now lies open on my desk. I am decidedly grateful.

The book is nearly pristine; just the edges of the dustjacket slightly frayed, the pages still bright and clean. There is no mark, little indication that anyone else has thumbed these pages before me. When I read it I feel for that moment that it is my most precious possession - a ridiculous thought - but I am so overwhelminglingly pleased to have it in front of me now.

However the most interesting thing about this book, the thing that fascinates me, is a slip of paper left inside the pages. It is nothing much: just a small slip of gestetner printing: 'To 'C Hamaker'it says at the top. The writing is looped and old-fashioned. The date is 1/10, the time is 11.15. 'While you were out Cassandra Bork Sewell of Bn Am 570 011....'

What did she do? She telephoned. (I know that because the box is ticked - which means she hadn't 'called to see you',or any of the other six possibilities). I imagine she breathed down the telephone in that deep cigarette-tuned voice of hers and then left a message. Maybe her bangles clicked once against the mouthpiece as she held it and whoever took the message could hear some song by the Stones playing faintly in the background. It says underneath what she said - but that would be telling too much. The best thing about telling a story is that you can end it where you please.


Blogger J. Erik Lundberg said...

That's really cool.

Mon Dec 04, 01:28:00 am  
Blogger Anne S said...

Oh I can relate to that. I occasionally come across old bookmarks in books that I have not read for many years. The bookmarks are odd things like a business card for a long defunct business, the tag from a plant you can't remember buying, someone's collection of unusual words for a spelling test or a Japanese silk bookmark from a penfriend of long ago.

I always am intrigued when I discover them and think, like you, there must be a story to their being there in that particular book.

Mon Dec 04, 10:04:00 am  
Blogger Jan said...

I love the comment re " ending a story where you please"..

Mon Dec 04, 10:16:00 am  
Anonymous clare said...

Jason and Jan: thanks!

Anne S: Mmm - lovely collection...Yes, I find that too - it's like rediscovering the life you had. You wonder how you could forget so absolutely. Sometimes I find my scribbles in the margins of old text books and I can't remember being in those pages at all. It seems quite alien.

Mon Dec 04, 11:43:00 am  
Blogger Jan said...

And there's you, saying you're not a creative's innate, Clare. You are a scientist with a mind that creates stories. The girl can't help it!

On another tack: i visited St Deiniol's library last summer ( in Hawarden, N Wales) It was originally built by Gladstone. Many bks in this wonderful library were his...our Guide opened several books ( straight off the shelves) and most had scribblings by Gladstone in the margins..

Mon Dec 04, 07:11:00 pm  
Blogger Tammy said...

Hi Clare! How cool! I wanted to thank you for your support :) hugs

Mon Dec 04, 07:12:00 pm  
Anonymous marly said...

Oh, I also received a book from across the sea--this very morning--and am feeling "decidedly grateful."

What was your UKP book? W. P. Albrecht's Hazlitt and the Creative Imagination (1965)? Some volume of the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology? With Clare, it could be anything.

I once found a long nineteenth-century poem in faded script inside a book. The poem was pedestrian but a lovely object. Now I've lost it again.

Mon Dec 04, 08:37:00 pm  
Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

A wonderful post. Exquisitely delivered - in your usual style. You have a knack for participating in quietly unique and very special experiences.

Tue Dec 05, 09:24:00 am  
Anonymous Susan Balée said...

I agree with everyone here -- this is a lovely post, about something I think about often: The objects that bear mute witness to history. I've bought many used books over the years and have found a number of documents inside them, from grocery lists to elaborate doodles. It brings the book to life for me even more to know that someone else once held it in his or her hands.....

Tue Dec 05, 01:09:00 pm  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Bork is an unusual name. I wonder if she is any relation to Bjork?

And.. Is Bjork a common name in Iceland? Maybe it is now. Maybe in the same way that there are now a lot of little Kylies, perhaps there is a whole new generation of little Bjorks.

Tue Dec 05, 11:47:00 pm  
Anonymous clare said...

Jan: yes, I've been meaning to go to St Deniol's for years now.

Tammy: my pleasure. I haven't been blog visiting for a bit, but I shall return!

Marly: It was a biography on a man called Dupont - he started off a gunpowder plant in Delaware - the rest, as they say, is history.

CB and Susan B - Thank you. You're both so kind. Yes, Susan B - a second hand book is value for money in more ways than one might think.

Fri Dec 08, 08:26:00 pm  

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