On a recent trip to Asheville, NC, a beautiful bookstore stole my heart. Amidst the sprawling bookcases and postcard racks, two shelves in a corner were dedicated to “Blind Date Books.” The books were wrapped in brown paper, and a few descriptive words were scrawled on the front. Words like: humorous, literary noir, compassionate, or striking, and my personal favorite – bittersweet hopeful. In true cliché form, I loved not being able to “judge a book by its cover.” But more than that, the idea of not knowing anything about the author or the storyline was liberating to me, and so, despite my dwindling bank account, I bought the “bittersweet hopeful” book, keeping it wrapped in its brown paper covered with words.
I opened it this morning: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Caroline Brunt. Disregarding all catch-up work, I’ve already read the first few chapters, marked the sentences that I love, and dog-eared the pages that I want to go back and read again. This is why it takes me so long to read anything. But I love taking my time with books. I’ll write thoughts into the margins and copy down quotes that stand out to me. It might be overkill, and certainly, when I lend my books to other people, I warn them that “I’ve marked it up, and please ignore what’s written in the margins.”
But my roommate recently lent me a book called Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman, and although I’m only halfway through it, I can already tell that it will soon become one of my favorite books. My roommate writes with blue ballpoint pen, and throughout the book, sentences are underlined and a few notes are written in the margins, similar to what I do in my books, albeit with pencil. I like reading her thoughts in the margins, noting what she chooses to highlight. It’s a window into a different perspective and I wonder about the overlap of the worlds that we each contain within us: our differences and similarities in how we interpret something. Perhaps I shouldn’t apologize for the thoughts I’ve left in books, trivial as I might think them to be.
Maybe we are all a part of what is left behind: words written in margins, highlighted sentences, a receipt used as a bookmark, the dog-eared page in chapter two. Library books tend to reflect the happenings of daily life: receipts, bookmarks, a post-it note with a checklist. Old bookstores are particular treasure troves of lost things, stories caught between the tattered pages of dusty books.
The non-profit Read By Famous collects and sells books previously owned and read by people who have achieved high recognition in their particular fields: chefs, athletes, writers, actors, educators, and the list goes on. The proceeds are donated to organizations that promote literacy and the arts: Literacy for Incarcerated Teens, Room to Read, and the African Library Project. There’s a layering of perspective that Read By Famous provides: the first being the author’s message in the book itself, the second in the thoughts of the person first reading the book – hopefully left behind in written notes and highlighted sections, and the third, one’s own interpretation of the book, perhaps enhanced by what was left behind. Reading, then, becomes such a gift, a chance to ponder and explore the world around us. Bittersweet hopeful. I wrote those words on the inside cover of that brown-papered book. Someday, maybe, those words will mean something special to someone else too.
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