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?