Do you ever wonder who made the big brown spill on page 238 of the library book you are reading? Do you ever think about the person whose hands sweated on the plastic-covered dust jacket that you’re holding? Obviously, I do.
With each page turn, I speculate about the person who read the book before I did. I wonder if that person and I would have a lot in common, especially if it’s a book that seems too pristine to have been touched by many hands. I’m also surprised when it’s an obscure book. I feel as if there’s somebody out there who could be my best friend based on the fact that we read the same books. Sometimes, I’m convinced that I am the first to read a book or the only one to read a certain library book, but then there are telltale signs.
Cat hair/dog hair. Occasionally, I will turn a page and see a short animal hair. I immediately blow it out of the book, but I always envision an older lonely woman surrounded by cats. Her only connection to humanity must surely be the library and the magical worlds she finds in the books she reads, never mind that the book with the cat hair in it is far from fantasy. Or it could be a person who leaves their books out on the couch or floor, and their animals lay on them and walk on them.
Brownish spill/stain. Hmmm. What could it be? Coffee? Coke? Human fluids? Please be coffee or Coke! Please? I rearrange my fingers, even if it’s awkward, to avoid touching the stain. Perhaps the reader was thirsty or hungry and ate sloppily and noisily while reading. That could account for the stain, but I still don’t want to touch it.
Pencil markings. In one recent library book, there were numbers in the margins that had been erased. At first, I thought a previous reader had numbered the paragraphs, but to what end I could not guess. But as I studied the numbers in subsequent pages, I realized there was no order or sense to them. I then thought that perhaps I had missed some important function or component of the narrative. Was I supposed to be compelled to begin jotting down numbers in the margins? Was I missing something here? (I am not a math genius. Far from it. So perhaps I really had missed something. After all, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is supposedly about math, but I completely missed seeing that analysis.)
Underlined passages. In pen. I can only hope that the library ninjas (who really exist in hilarious Canadian animated television series Jacob Two-Two, based on a series of books by Mordecai Richler) caught this person and brought them to justice. Even so, I can never see why the person did what they did. The passages chosen to be pillaged with a pen do not make any sense. They are not the passages that I would have underlined and therefore not the important ones. Duh! I just feel sorry for these poor, uninformed readers.
While we’re on the subject, I have nothing against writing in books, especially when one owns those books. It is defacing public property that bothers me. Take notes on a pad of paper or use post it notes. That’s what I do with library books when I want to remember and annotate what I’ve read.
Smoke smell. I have a hard time with this one. I am not a smoker, and I never have been or will be. The smell is an unpleasant one, and I’m always put out when a library book has been forced to absorb the pollution from someone else’s house. It’s akin to book abuse, almost as bad a crime as burning books.
Germs. Is this book crawling with germs? Did the previous patron wash their hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom? This is a must, as a hilarious episode of Seinfeld parodies. You can see the video here on one of my favorite blogs, 101 Books. Books do not belong in the bathroom nor should they be handled by people with poor hygienic practices.
As to that large brown stain, I think I figured out what happened. Last night, my little family and I went out for sushi with my dad, his partner, my grandmother, and my grandfather. They are all in town for my sister’s wedding, and I have not seen my grandfather in several years. As we talked, he told me about his plane flight here. I guess toward the end of the flight, he’d been reading his library book and holding his complimentary Coke. The plane hit some turbulence and the Coke spilled all over the open pages of the book, all over his shirt front, and all over his lap. He said he hoped the librarians would not notice the stain in the book when he returned it, but the worst part was getting off the plane looking like he had wet himself.
So, the next time I encounter a spill, a smell, or an ink stain on a library book, I may have to imagine a scenario like this one and have a little more sympathy for the person who once read my library book.
Have you perpetrated any of the above “crimes” against books?
I once found a copy of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ in the library which I had been wanting to read for ages only to find that it absolutely reeked of TCP. I couldn’t bring myself to take it out even though I really wanted to read it! Luckily, I did eventually find another copy which had a normal book smell. Also, I agree that underlining passages in pen in library books is unforgivable. At least the person who was using antiseptic probably really needed it…
Oh my! Well, you have a good attitude, but yes, it’s hard to want to touch a book that you know has been “handled” improperly…
This is really sweet! Though I don’t have a public library around(my university is in a village), I like to read untouched books in my college library. I occasionally leave notes for the next reader.
How would you like if your library book has a note that reads ‘Good morning, beautiful’?
That’s a cool idea. Now I’m tempted to leave notes, just to see if I can find my book soul mate…
Or leave a recommendation? “You can read ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ after reading this book(‘The Catcher in the Rye’)”.
That’s a lovely idea! It should become standard – although in pencil please!
I generally write it on a piece of paper and put it inside the book!
I’ve considered doing that in the past but am too “chicken”. Glad to see that someone has done this 🙂
I think about this a lot and it’s one of the reasons I miss those little cards we used to fill out in the back of library books (where we used to put our name in the back when we checked out a library book). You could see who checked out the book before you- now it would be a bit creepy with the internet as someone could google you I suppose, but in the past, you could look at their name and handwriting and wonder who that person was – a fun little mystery 🙂
Yes! That was fun. I saw something online the other day, probably NPR, showing Elvis Presley’s signature on a card like that. Very cool.
When you mentioned the pencil markings, I just imagined it being a secret code between two CIA agents. One of them is now fired for not picking up the book in time, of course.
LOL! Oh, that’s good! Because I stumbled upon them, I’m now in the middle of an international conspiracy, and I must decode the markings or risk losing my life. I’d better get to work.
In this case, I’d imagine sticking your nose in their business is way more risky than denying you ever saw something.
Good point. I think I will stay out of this one, although my spying skills are quite spectacular.
It makes me sad that when you see animal hair in a book you assume an old lady with cats whose only connection to humanity is the library book. Way to reinforce a ridiculous stereotype. Cleary you don’t have pets, as their hair has it’s own intentions, and sometimes a little cat hair just needs to travel.
Otherwise, I really enjoyed your post. I love thinking about where a book has been before me. My favorite thing is to buy a used book and find a slip of paper somewhere in it, an actual note,not an inscription. I have one used book that has a photo of a man sitting on a swing. Who is that? Why was it in my book? I imagine the image’s name is Steven. I don’t know why.
It was a joke, and I wrote it with that stereotype in mind on purpose. Obviously, it fell flat. I do not have pets, and I probably won’t ever because my young daughter and husband are both very allergic to dogs and cats. See my post about it here: :https://emilyjanuary.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/im-allergic-to-babies-the-search-for-a-family-pet/ It’s been a source of tears and sadness at our house recently. Thanks for reading.
oOOO, it was a joke! Sorry, I was having one of those dawg-days of summer. Heat making me cranky first and humor hiding away for a cooler day. I do like your blog.
That’s okay. I’m glad I didn’t permanently offend you! 🙂
I’m sorry for the brown stains, I guess that was me. I never realized while I was pouring my hot cocoa over each and every page that anyone would notice it later and mind it. oopsie!
And sorry about the smoke smell and the pen markings too.
But far be it from me to ever let an animal hair touch a library book of mine! That one really sends me over the edge–the indecency of it! Have some shame, people!
(You are hilarious, I loved this post—you made me smile, thanks Emily)
No, you make me smile! Thanks for getting my jokes and not shaming me for them. 🙂
I love the photograph of the old books! Makes the heart go pitter-patter! I frequently give my used book to the local library., That may be a common practice in your neck of the woods. My books almost certainly had marginal notes and underlining (I can’t read without a pencil in my hand!) So maybe that’s what you are running into!?
I bet you’re right. I do think our county accepts donations. In that case, some of those notes are precious.
I love this…and the comments too!
Thanks! I agree. Great comments.
Especially love the ones about leaving notes…just might have to try that sometime! 🙂
Such a great idea!
“It’s akin to book abuse, almost as bad a crime as burning books.”
For this, I salute you!
You didn’t mention when people fold the edges of the pages, or sometimes a full page in half. . . Some people also don’t take much care of the corners of the book (and its cover) which results in very sad curled paperback covers =(
Good one! I completely forgot about folding the edges and the pages. That’s naughty, too!
And the curled up cover, and cracked spine too! =(
I loved your ideas about who is marking up the books. The library I use puts clear plastic covers over the outside of the books. I have to confess, sometimes they’re so dirty I wash them off. Do you think I’m compulsive?
You’re definitely compulsive. Can’t you take something for that? 🙂 I wash them sometimes too, so I guess I am just as bad.
I’m taking a very strong anti-depressant, but no matter how hard I rub it on the book, it doesn’t clean it off.
LOL! You are witty. I like that. I aspire to be more witty.
I love your post about the brown stain in the library book. I am an avid library user and have encountered many stains, brown and otherwise, and wonder about them. Thanks for the suggestions as to what they may be. My imagination will go a little crazy next time I come across one. I confess to leaving chocolate stains in a library book once (I took a bite and little crumbles fell everywhere). I no longer eat chocolate while reading library books. Anyway, great post!
Thanks! I have to confess that I have spilled chocolate on a book before, too. I had forgotten about that. 🙂
Yes, the wear and tear on the books can be a good story in itself! Sometimes we get dog training books returned with chew marks all over them, and there’s usually a story worth hearing there.
I wonder if that interesting story is a success in dog training or a miserable failure. That would say a lot about the book too! Great comment.
And there are people who enjoy sharing their thoughts so much that they have to use all the spaces available to them. In pen. I’ve to literally read between the lines.
Thanks for the great post.
Oh how funny, and annoying. Thanks!
^^Great discussion above^^
I love getting cookbooks from the library and finding ingredient smudges. It means that someone out there tried the recipe and it is inspiring. Or maybe they were just eating a candy bar. But I’d like to think they were cooking.
I want to believe they were cooking too. Although, I have checked out Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking twice from my library and have yet to actually cook anything from it…
I cannot fathom the idea of getting a book from the library for two reasons: 1) I want to OWN the book and 2) I want to write in the book! I mean, I am notorious for my note-taking in books! In fact, some of my friends request to borrow books from me instead of get it from the library so that they can read my notes! I guess that’s why my blog is mainly book reviews! If you want, you can check it out!
I love owning and writing in books too, but it’s an expensive habit! That’s why I love the library, and it brings back my most pleasant childhood memories. Thanks for reading!
I KNOW IT IS SO EXPENSIVE! That is why, as a result of my book obsession, I’ve become very good at thrift store shopping, bargaining, and gift accepting!
Thanks for replying!
I do love thrift store book hunting. So fun.
The coke stain? That was definitely me. Definitely me.
Ha! You must be a Coke addict. I have a lot of friends who are constantly “quitting” Diet Coke.
Lovely post – and couldn’t agree more about writing in public property *especially* in pen – just horrible and thoughtless – ruins the reading experience for the next person. Pencil I don’t mind so much as it’s much fainter – and if it’s really over the top you can just rub it out.
I agree. There’s a big difference between pen and pencil.
During school, when I used to use the local library a lot, I did use to wonder about the people who had those books previously. Glad I’m not the only one! In the defense of smokers, however, I don’t personally think smoking around a book is worse than spilling stuff on it (not in your grandfather’s case – but if you’re at home, it IS something you can avoid.) If I’m borrowing a book, from a friend or a library, I take very good care of the book, don’t fold down pages or bend the spine like I would with my own books, and I never smoked when I used to use the library a lot, but sometimes it’s nice to curl up with a cigarette and a book. And it may not be the person who is reading it – perhaps they live in a smokey house?
On behalf of smokers, I apologise. Please don’t judge us 🙂
But yeah, great post!
You make some excellent points. And I am honestly surprised that nobody has defended smoking until now! Way to represent. But it’s still bad for your health… 🙂
Very bad for your health. But so is a lot of things. And I understand it’s not nice for those around you at times – many of my friends are non-smokers, and more often than not if we are at the pub in the beer garden, I will offer to swap places with them if the smoke is blowing towards them. To me, smoking is one of the very few things I currently totally enjoy, and in most cases, yes, I will defend smoking and smokers (whilst admitting it is bad for your health :P)
It sounds like you are polite about it. And if you enjoy it, that’s your business. I have an addiction too. Sugar. I seriously cannot go a day without it and it IS just as bad for my health, too.
One of my best friends used to be addictd to salt. Well, she still is sort of, but she stopped having salt sandwiches at least.
I love that you did a post about this! I thought I was the only person who puzzled about, was amazed by, felt disgusted by, or was ever generally irritated by the “ones who read before.” Yes, I suppose I am a self-absorbed reader. 😉
Anyway, I once ordered a used book from an online retailer who shall remain nameless and as I opened the package I was engulfed in cigarette smoke fumes. I have never smelled anything so densely fumigated. It was horrific. I had to leave the book out in the sun, pages fluttering in the breeze for days, even to be able to read it. I ultimately got rid of it. Just couldn’t muster the attachment necessary to add it to the shelf, thus sentencing it’s neighbors to proximal fumigation.
I’m guilty of getting stuff on the books I borrow, but I try to be extremely careful. Thank goodness for libraries and used books. The remnants of the ones who’ve read before are just par for the course and small beans in relation to the absolute gift of the book itself.
Your experience sounds awful. I wouldn’t appreciate that either. As to being self-absorbed, I think that comes with the territory of being a reader. It’s a pretty self-absorbed activity!
Now you’ve got me wondering more about the previous readers of my library books! I have to say with school books (for English) and textbooks, the notes written in there can be quite interesting. For English sometimes the person was clearly very smart, and sometimes the messages in textbooks can be hilarious. I had someone write in a senior maths textbook (with calculus and all) that we should hand the book back over now, or if we didn’t, should write our name in the gravestone drawn next to it!
I really want to know what those numbers were next to the paragraphs. Maybe someone wanted to make notes, so numbered next to the paragraph, which of their notes was related, and then read through, and made further notes, making the numbers seem random? Though I like the idea of them being some sort of secret CIA code!
One other cool library thing, is that I find it interesting when I reserve a book, to go to the holds section, and take a look at what everyone else is reserving. It’s ordered alphabetically, so I also have a quick check to see if I’m somehow related to someone. Once, someone reserved the same book as me and had a nearby last name, so two copies of the book where next to each other, and I just loved that coincidence, it did make me think about what sort of person they are, but now I’m going to do that all the time because of you!
I’ve had the name mix-up at the library, too! (With my married last name; it is more common.) I love all of your examples and stories. It sounds like you have had a lot of interesting books with fun notes! And I agree with the calculus gravestone…
I love this post, I have had to return books before that had actual crumbs coating the majority of the pages, when I took the piñata, I mean book, back to the library, I was compelled to shake it out on the library counter so the librarian would know it wasn’t me with the messy snack habit, but perhaps the patron before me.
Ha! That’s disgusting. I’m glad you made it clear that it wasn’t you. 🙂
One time I checked out The History of Joseph Smith by his Mother Lucy Mack Smith and every few pages or so I found a pubic hair. After awhile I realized this was no accident. It was very gross and uncalled for.
Oh no! That is disgusting. 😦