A library of found books.

A copy of one of the books I’ve authored was returned to me from a big chain bookstore today, and I felt quite sad about it.  Not because it was returned, but because the person who was meant to read it didn’t get the chance to do so.  It wasn’t found in time.

Big chain bookstores need to do that, of course; they need to shift their inventory quickly.  And they do best selling hot-topic, everybody-is-reading-this, kinds of books.  And it’s lovely to have such bookstores nearby and thriving.

But there are certain books that must be “found,” I think.  They are the ones that need to sit for a bit longer on the shelf.  And then one day, they just catch your eye, and they have titles that intrigue your imagination, and a few opening lines and words that resonate with you personally – your heart, your soul, your state of mind.  And they invite you to stop and lean against the shelves for a minute longer and read just a bit more and lose track of time and place.

I suspect this point of view was particularly clear and present with me this week because I have been cleaning and sorting through my own collection of books in my home.  And each one of them seems to be a “found book.”  

There are plenty of classics and best sellers among them – like “Great Expectations” and “Les Miserables” and “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Rebecca” – those that I was required to read first in school, but which then took my breath away as if I were the only one to have found the magic and music within them, a secret that was mine alone.  

But mostly, my library is made up of older, lesser known works and authors.  Some were once celebrated but forgotten over time.  Some were never really mainstream or widespread but are beautifully written, great fun to read, with great truths told in old words, and human honesty that still makes me laugh, and a sort of dignity that still makes me cry.

Through this cleansing process, I have noted that I am apparently drawn to hardcover books over paperbacks, and missing book jackets just enhance the experience for me (regardless of what true collectors tell us that does to their value).  Print vs. ebooks isn’t even an option for me (as one author put it: there is something about “print against fingerprints” that creates a unique relationship between writer and reader).

I have also proved without doubt that I prefer used books to new.  Looking around at the stacks of them now spread across my floors and chairs and tables awaiting re-shelving, I remember Virginia Woolf’s observation that:  “Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books, coming together in vast flocks of variegated feather and charm.”  And each of my wild books was found one-at-a-time, usually without any recommendation other than its own.

This time spent sorting and cleaning and rearranging my books has also brought to light many other surprise “findings” about books in general and mine in particular.  Among the pages of many of them, there have been tucked brief notes and cards, a pressed clover leaf, faded photographs, mementoes of time and circumstance relative to the last reading or a former life – like lingering DNA and experience and memories and shadows.  I suspect it explains why old books seem to fatten with age, their pages thicken, their spines crinkle and expand with use.

I suspect that when most authors send their books out into the world, they often feel as if each one is a small folded paper boat cast off into an unknown stream.  Floating, drifting, just waiting to become a “found” book by the person who was meant to read it.  And they hope for it to find a place within a library of found books, and that it will grow fat with time and relationship.

© Marti Healy 2020