Things Inside Books
When I first became truly interested in reading as a pleasurable pursuit, rather than as a way to avoid beatings from my schoolteachers, I had to rely mainly on the books of others for my consumption, for, being a child, I was earning very little money, and despite my newfound passion, what little money I came across or stole from my mother’s purse went immediately towards video games or little white paper bags filled with jellies, purchased at the corner shop. So most of the time it was visits to the library (even back then I hated the fucking things, and still do, and will continue to do so forever), or I would scratch through my parent’s bookshelf in the front lounge.
It was a fine bookshelf, the one in the front lounge. Cast iron and redwood, around three meters long, three shelves high (the bottom shelf easily dismissed, packed as it was with my mother’s gardening and cooking portfolios), with, at a guess, a hundred and two score and a bit books in it. I worked my way from left to right. There was a lot of shit, of course, but a decent proportion of good stuff: Conan Doyle, Evelyn Waugh, Morris Lurie, Lennie Lower (which reminds me: I have to track down some of his books and see if they were as piss-funny as I remember them being), Spike Milligan (his war biographies), Roald Dahl, Dorothy Parker, Rider Haggard. I read them all and when the supply was exhausted I kept going back, but this time, it was to discover all the stuff inside the books.
My parents, it turned out, were inveterate placers-of-things-in-books. Newspaper clippings, postcards, pamphlets, patches, vegetables, letters, envelopes, bookmarks (of course), photographs, you name it. At the time I thought it was odd to keep things inside books (I still think this, and don’t do it myself), and one day I went through every single book in the house, leafed through every single page, and removed every single thing. I put them all in a manila folder and presented the folder to my mother, who immediately instructed me to return the items to their rightful places before dad got home. Not wanting to go back and put every single thing back where I found it, I just through the objects into random volumes. Thus many thin books swelled visibly and could not be reshelved before severe modification.
The point I’m trying to make is that I enjoyed finding things in books back then, as I enjoy it now. I always flick through likely-looking books at secondhand stores, to see what people have put in them. I found an old twenty dollar note a few years ago in a book at a store in Brisbane. Being penniless I naturally kept it and furthermore never again returned to that bookstore, because if the guy’s pricing his product (quite outrageously, if I recall) without even examining it, then fuck him and I hope he goes broke. Apart from the money, a photocopy of somebody’s birth certificate and a black-and-white picture of a vagina I don’t believe I’ve ever found anything really good, but a lot of the stuff is pretty interesting, especially those newspaper clippings that don’t seem to have isolated any particular article. You know the ones – you find an upside-down ‘L’ newspaper clipping, yellow with age, but it seems to be entirely random, and hasn’t followed the margins of any particular story. It’s like somebody just wanted to be fancy with a pair of scissors. I don’t know. Anyway, I’m a little drunk, but I was wondering: what goodies have youse found inside books?