The Things We Leave Behind, Part 2: Finding Messages in Second-Hand Books

It's always fun to find out what's inside second-hand books. One doesn't often find fish inside of them.

It is no secret that I love second-hand books. I even mused about them in an earlier post, because sometimes these books have hidden secrets hidden inside of them, which are revealed when you start reading them. This time, nothing fell out of Sebastian Faulk’s Birdsong, which I had acquired from an online second-hand bookshop. Still, the book revealed so much about its previous owner. Want to know what I found? Read on!

Look at it, this beautiful book about the First World War. It’s a special centenary publication with a new foreword by the author, which makes me happy because I love new editions with extra content. I am at page one now. I haven’t been able to start reading, because some things about this copy were quite distracting.

Look at it! The spine hasn’t been cracked yet and isn’t crooked. The cover isn’t bent, nor have any pages been damaged or yellowed by the sun. According to the colophon this book was published and printed in 2014. We’re eight years later now, and nobody has bothered to read it yet. It’s quite a sad thing, I think, that this book, whose only purpose is being read, has not had the pleasure of fulfilling its goal. That’s why I decided to give it some special attention; finding out what its previous owners have done with it, and wondering why they decided not to read it. Let’s find out whether they have left any traces.

The first page is already quite interesting. On it, there’s a squiggly pencil-drawn line, saying, I think, the number 12, and a sticker with a fish on it. I have ordered plenty of books from this specific online second-hand bookshop, and there’s a tropical fish in all of them. I suspect the following: this is not a second-hand but a third-hand book, and below the fish one can find the price my seller had paid for this book. Mystery solved. That is to say, I could also start thinking about why this book deserved this particular fish, but since I have no knowledge about any type of fish (apart from the fact that sharks scare me), I should not go into this any further. A fish is a fish is a fish, isn’t it?

Turning the page, I quickly realised that I had just struck gold. Apparently, a person called Elise gifted this book to someone else who had just found a new job, back in 2015. This copy of Birdsong, apparently, had been sitting on the shelves of a bookshop for a whole year before Elise purchased it for her anonymous friend. I started thinking about why she thought this book would be a good fit.

Would this person have a new job in the Army? Or would they have studied English? Would they be a historian? Would they love long books? Would they be interested in the War – this one in particular or any kind of armed conflict? Was it Eline’s favourite book? Or would they simply have read a rave review about it and decided it might be fun?

Also, would these two people be friends? Siblings, perhaps, or former colleagues? I honestly don’t know. It’s interesting, though that the person who was given this book did not only not bother reading it, but also gave it away, unread, to a bookshop, along with its message. It shows that these two people might not be as close as one might expect. Did something happen between them that made the book receiver anxious to get rid of the book? Did one hurt the other? Or did they merely forget about it and decide to give it away because they’d never read it anyway? Had they even read the text in the first place?

Oh, it pains me not to know what happened between Eline and that other person. Unfortunately, I will never find any sort of answer. Unless, that is, if my blog becomes wildly successful and Elise recognises the gift she gave to someone else all those years ago. In that case, Elise, please reach out to me, because it would be great publicity if my blog will now and forevermore be known as a bringer-together of estranged persons. I might even double the amount of daily viewers because of it (which would bring the average amount of views to, well, four), and I might even become successful…

Anyway. Time to start reading the actual novel. I often write about how books make me think, but I never expected that even a physical copy of a book would give me so much food for thought.

Did you ever find handwritten notes in second-hand books? What’s your favourite one? Do you ever wonder who might have read your books before you? Do you think we always leave things behind in books, even if we don’t leave any physical trace? Please let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!

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