Lending libraries have an interesting characteristic. We own stuff. We let private individuals borrow this stuff, take it into their cars, homes, offices, hotel rooms, school lockers, and then expect them to give back this stuff. But due to the Law of Accumulation of Stuff, sometimes things don’t come back quite the way they left. Sometimes, there is more….
I’m the last person who will judge you for your choice in bookmarks. It would be generous to say that I’ve been creative in my choice of bookmarks, having used other books, mixing bowls, furniture, people, etc. My brothers insist that I once used a peeled banana, but I’m reasonably sure the peel was still there when I left it. I once found the program from a friend’s recital, which had apparently been sitting in the book since I borrowed it myself a year before.
It turns out I’m not the only one. Michael Popek, a used-book seller, has been collecting some of these things-found-in-books since he started helping out in his father’s bookstore at age seven. He has a website, Forgotten Bookmarks, where he posts pictures and stories of his finds, and has released two books with some of the best. Looking through the website and the book of the same name is a delightful mix of anthropology and voyeurism. Between some pages may be found love letters, vacation photos, and intriguingly specific invitations. Between others, cap gun ammunition, seven razor blades, “Dear John” letters, an emergency exit sign, and an advertisement for an automatic sealing burial vault.
Popek’s second book, Handwritten Recipes, is less about peeking into other people’s lives and more about peeking into their brains. The recipes are transcribed exactly as found, which leaves room for a lot of ambiguity and incompleteness, besides accounting for strange tastes. He has called upon several food-blogging friends to fill in the gaps and review recipes, though I wish he had done so for more than a handful of the recipes. A few of the recipes, including Barbecued Beef and Paul’s Pumpkin Bars, are getting added to my own collection. Others have ingredients that concern me, such as Noodle Pudding (Velveeta), Italian Cookies (11 eggs, 1 lb sugar, ½ lb lard, etc.) or the Italian Pie (1 lb butts, ground or cut up in small pieces).
Contrasting with the forgotten bookmarks, we have several stories involving messages deliberately left within books. In his memoir Running the Books, Avi Steinberg falls into a job as a prison librarian. One of his responsibilities is removing “kites” (handwritten notes) from books, in between batches of prisoners who are not meant to communicate. “I would walk around like a shell collector on a beach,” he writes of these clean-up periods, “gathering up legal documents, love letters, queries, manifestos, grievances, marginalia, scribbled receipts, remnants of illicit transactions, wrap dates, rap sheets, rap lyrics, business plans, country songs, handmade advertisements for ‘entertainment’ businesses, journal entries, betting lines, greeting cards, prayers, recipes, incantations, and lists. Many lists.”
For more lost and found voyeurism, here are a few titles worth perusing:
- Found : the best lost, tossed, and forgotten items from around the world
- Other people’s love letters : 150 letters you were never meant to see, and its companion
- Other people’s rejection letters : relationship enders, career killers, and 150 other letters you’ll be glad you didn’t receive
- Stuck up! : 100 objects inserted and ingested in places they shouldn’t be.
For fictional tales of the things between our pages, try:
I’ll leave you with a found bookmark of the library’s own, left tucked inside a rollicking adventure book in the children’s section.