My library is not what it used to be. For decades I accumulated books, dragging them back and forth across the country, and my library was a source of pride. Vanity, to be honest. Changing priorities (a euphemism for not having enough money) meant I had to drastically prune the collection, but that task was made easier by electronic books and online resources. I no longer have my complete set of Star Trek novelizations, but any time I want to read one, I can check it out from Open Library.
I miss the attributes of physical books, particularly those that reveal personal connections or history – bookstore stamps, bookplates, dedications, notes and so on. They don’t have to be for me. I have a book with a note on the inside cover, stating “To my favourite love poet – M.” I purchased the book used, and sometimes wonder about the relationship between M and their poet, and how the book ended up in a church fundraiser. Did they break up, and whoever received the book could not bear the reminder of happier times? Are they still together, but had to prune their books to make room for the baby/cat/sailing adventure? Did the poet die in a car crash, and when her partner found the book, did he wonder who M was, and why this person got poems when he never did? Did M receive love poems from more than one person, and was not shy about admitting that or declaring a favourite? And will my children someday wonder what M meant to me?
I recently picked up a book at a little free library in Vancouver, British Columbia. This was a genuine British Mills and Boon historical romance (Harlequin in North America), originally sold 22 years ago, for £3.65. At some point it was listed for £1 on the first page, and it later ended up in a collection belonging to the British Heart Foundation, with a sticker stating “Read me, then bring me back again.” Someone missed that. Did the book fly directly from London to Vancouver? However it got there, I brought it with me back to Halifax, for reading enroute, so it has seen both ends of the country. Once I write my review, I’ll leave it in the laundry room library of my building, and who knows where it will go next.
If an average of about five people a year read this book, it has been held by a hundred people, and I feel a kinship with them – we are closer than those who have merely read the same story. We have taken this book to different places, sharing and spreading happy endings wherever we go. Perhaps among my GoodReads friends is someone who read this very copy. This book has been in hundreds of locations – stores, home, offices, and at least one bath tub (guilty). If this book could talk…and there’s a story idea.