By Lori Berezovsky ι Feb. 26, 2014
Do you ever wonder about library books? Sometimes when I’m reading a library book I’ll find a little clue left behind by a previous reader. It could be a bookmark, a receipt, or even better a penciled-in correction of a typo. All of these things make we wonder who has read the book before me and what they are like. Then I start wondering if there is a pattern. Are the people who have read the book anything at all like me? Do we listen to the same type of music and like Italian food? Do we favor cats over dogs and change the channel when anything sports related comes on? Perhaps I think too much. But I do wonder about these things.
Just when I think I’ve caught a glimpse of what’s going on with my library book, I’ll stumble upon a really old book. And that’s when real history comes into play. For example, I have inherited an old Bible that was my grandpa Charlie’s. It’s written in Lithuanian, and my grandpa’s name is written very carefully inside the front cover. I start thinking about all the historical events this Bible saw since being printed in the 1880s, not the least of which was being carried across the ocean to America in 1907. Grandpa died in 1929 at the age of 40. When my grandma remarried 8 years later, her new husband drew a line through grandpa’s name and wrote his own in under it. This was not disrespect, mind you. It was something to own a book for these poor Lithuanians who made it to America just in time to live through the Great Depression. You didn’t replace these important books, you amended them.
The linguistic style of a book is another tell. Old-style English had it’s place in the “Scarlet Letter” or “Wuthering Heights”, but the language has evolved, thank goodness, and we no longer fill page after page, waxing poetic about the heather on the moors, and using thees and thous to do so. Still, when I see an old, old copy of those classics, I wonder who’s read it. I wonder if they started it and gave up. I wonder if they read it and got into the rhythm of the old-style language and loved it. I wonder if the book has traveled from country to country as a cherished belonging that couldn’t be left behind, like grandpa’s Bible. And I wonder how many of its readers recommended it (or not) to their friends.
Think about it. Take a book to another country, if you can. Wonder about your fellow readers. And create a history for your own books.
Lori Berezovsky is the library’s Outreach Coordinator.