Lowell, Massachusetts, May 14, 1969
Johnny Leary was desperate now. He needed a fix real soon. Even though his body was letting him know he desperately needed food and rest, Johnny didn’t care. The shaking and the cold sweats would subside if he could get one more hit he told himself. Just one more, and then I’ll go straight. It was a promise Johnny had made many times before, usually on days like today when he had all of $5 in his pockets. His ‘job’ at the bar would not be paying him again for another week so he knew he had to come up with something. He looked around his ramshackle apartment for more things he could pawn. His eyes glanced towards the stack of books in the corner. It was not always like this of course, and when he was younger his mom had read to him at an early age all kinds of books. She took special delight in delicately pulling out the older books, which she explained to him had belonged to the grandfather he had never met. “It’s not just the words inside the books that tell a story” she had told him. “Sometimes the books themselves have a story.” For a while he treasured the books as well. Mom never minded when he borrowed them in those days because she knew they always found their way back to the bookshelves. Eventually though, marked gaps in those rows of books started appearing. “I’ll bring them next time,” Johnny always promised when she asked him, but gradually she realized they would not when she saw the condition he was in with every new visit.
These days, Johnny could give two shits about things of sentimental value like old books. In all honesty he did not even think about his mom that much since the last Christmas at her house, when disappointed with his behavior she had told him not to come back until he had straightened himself out. Whatever the hell that meant, Johnny had thought, I’m perfectly fine, she’s the one that has a problem with me. As he scanned the room he started making a pile of the things he thought could get him a few bucks. Records he had bought as little as a year ago, a fishing pole his dad had given him when he was fourteen, a plywood guitar he had once happily strummed along to the Beatles with. And the books. He grabbed them indiscriminately, not even pausing to see which titles they were.
Johnny Leary was desperate now. He needed a fix real soon. He packed everything in a box and headed out the door…
Keene, New Hampshire, October 11, 1977
Sandra Richman loaded the cart up behind the counter the same way she had done several times a day, for years now. But to Sandra, the loading and unloading was not mindless drudgery. She was doing what she loved. Part of it was that working in a library allowed her to indulge in her desire for order. Everything in its place according to the ‘system’. But it was also for the olfactory and tactile sense as well. Sandra loved books, and loved being around them, running her hand across the pages on anything from a children’s book to a well-regarded classic. The older they were, the better they felt to her. The paper used back then felt different compared to the mass produced versions of today. The older books also inevitably had a smell. Usually it was of dust, but sometimes you could almost swear that they smelled of other things too-faint whiffs of the ocean, or the moldy smell that comes from not storing a book properly. Sandra had often heard people use the phrase-‘the book came alive’ and for her that was true in more ways than one.
As she systematically loaded the cart of book returns, she paused on one particular volume. It was funny that handling as many books as she did on a daily basis that she should pause like this, but she actually knew this book. Knew it because it was checked out like clockwork several times a year, all coinciding with Professor O’Connolly’s course on Irish literature at the college. Inevitably some cash strapped student would come into the Public Library looking for a copy, leaving it too late to buy one at the college Bookstore. She scanned it quickly for any visible signs of writing in the margins, which was of course frowned upon. Thankfully she noted that once again the book had been returned in good condition. Which was remarkable for a book so old, reminded once again of the inscription dated 1945 at the front. Nice to know others treat books so well she thought. She also wondered why on earth anyone would give something like this up. She could tell it had been donated to the library at some point, but she wondered if there was more of a story as to why it was in her hands now. Oh well she thought, as she placed the book on the cart and continued to load the returns…
Keene, New Hampshire, January 17, 1998
“Come on Frank, hurry up!”
“Cut me a break Charlie, these damn books are heavy and we’ve been hauling them back and forth for an hour now.”
“I know Frank, but we can make some good money off of these. All these libraries downsizing their catalog to make room for computers and selling them to us will keep us in stock for a long time.”
“Yeah, yeah Charlie, I know, but where the hell do you think we’re gonna keep them I don’t know!”
Frank repositioned some books he had already put in a box, allowing him to add a few more. He grabbed a handful and shoved them in muttering under his breath…
Cornwall, New York, April 22, 2010
The couple had come up from New York City for a weekend away at one of their favorite local bed and breakfasts. Even though it was just over an hour from the city, the Hudson Valley felt like the country to city dwellers like them. They noticed a sign across the street from the inn pointing to a Spring Fair in a nearby park. It was the usual sort of local affair on an unseasonably cool spring day. Face painting and other activities for the kids. A little petting zoo of farm animals had been set up, and a couple of people were up on a makeshift stage singing folk songs. Off in the other direction were some tables with people selling the usual sort of things- Homemade jam, candles, jewelry, vinyl records and CD’s. Further down the row was someone selling old books out of crates strewn across the table and on the ground. But this was not the usual collection of ‘used’ books- hastily written celebrity autobiographies or computer programming books from 10 years before that usually comprised used book tables such as this. No, this table had old books. Books that had been around for a while.
Some were slightly battered-covers torn slightly, pages stained by time (or coffee), but overall, these books had been well taken care of. Between them the couple selected a few-a book of illustrations from artists of the Hudson River School, a book of Western short stories with a forward by O. Henry and another book that looked interesting. It had no cover, but had a somewhat distinctive green spine and the title on the side grabbed their collective attention-Five Great Modern Irish Plays. A quick perusal of the plays that were included was deemed acceptable by the husband, and they paid a ridiculously cheap price for the three books and went on their way. Later, while looking more carefully at all the items they had purchased on the weekend getaway, the husband noticed an inscription inside the book. How interesting he thought. This book has certainly traveled quite a bit….
Part 1 of The Book… can be found here
Part 2 of The Book… can be found here
Robert P. Doyle
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