Book Trails

You know those “where’s George” dollar bills in circulation? And the “book crossing” books released in airports and waiting rooms, with a stamp inside to show where it’s been?

Well, book trails are similar. Book trails are the marginalia, the inside cover notes, and the other writings of humans on the artifacts of gathered wisdom, left like messages in a book bottle for us to find.

Jack and I had several boxes of donated books come in from a family clearing out an old house. Think pre-WWII textbooks and reading club hardbacks from the 1960s. We regard such donations with mixed emotions, as 95 percent will be junk. BUT there will be some cool things in there – and there might even be one or two books we can actually sell.

This time, two books caught my attention. One was a 1942 Home Economics Text. In its sturdy green (grubby) linen jacket, The Book of Home Economics by Mary Learning (poor woman; her name was her destiny) stood out from the rest because of a coda inked on its cover.

Printed in such excellent penmanship that at first it looked like a continuation of the title, were the words “In Case of Fire, Please Throw In.”

Ah, anonymous fed-up student of the 1940s, we feel your pain. And we’re glad you found a way to fight back that left us howling with sudden laughter, seventy years later. I hope your grandchildren know what a hoot you were in school.

The other book was a bit more… poignant. Stolen Lives by Elissa Wall and Lisa Pulitzer was published in 2009 and is still selling briskly. It’s about young brides forced into polygamous marriages. This one was hardcover, had lost its dust jacket, and was seriously beat up.

But inside the cover, written in a large scrawl, I found: “Josh does not think I should be with Aaron. He thinks I am too good for Aaron but he doesn’t understand that Aaron is too good for me. He thinks everyone likes the people who like them. But we like who we like. I wish I didn’t like Aaron. Aaron doesn’t like me.”

I wish I could think of a better expression of empathy than “Ah, shit, kid.”

It reminds me of Dodie Smith’s wonderful book I Capture the Castle, wherein the young protagonist describes love as a game of Pass the Parcel gone horribly wrong. Everyone is in love with someone who’s in love with someone else.

Book trails: markers on our individual journeys, reminding us that many have trod similar paths–toward love, toward life, toward families, toward death.

It never hurts to look up from a book now and again, and smile at the people around you. We’re making our solo journeys together.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, Uncategorized, writing

4 responses to “Book Trails

  1. Janice Brooks-Headrick

    Yes. I have the signatures and mementos of many, because I have their books. Even Grama and Grampa’s “courting book” that they read to each other, knee to knee. Lady of the Lake.

    Janice Brooks-Headrick 865-429-1783 Storyteller Author Instigator Timeline: Email:

  2. Would you hold the Elissa Wall book for me? Thanks.

  3. Tracy

    Love this! It made me smile 🙂

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