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The Secret Lives of Books

What stories are your books telling you?
by ResQgeek
November 8, 2005
Even a casual visit to the Forum should be enough to reveal that many of us share a great curiosity about the adventures of our books once they leave our hands. You see it when a journal entry is made for a book that was released into the wild months or even years earlier, often far from its current location. We wonder how the book traveled from the release location to its current environs, how many people read it along the way and what other places it visited en route. But have you ever wondered what happened to your book before it came to you, before it became a BookCrossing book?

Once in a while a book will give up clues about its past, providing just a glimpse into the lives it has touched, but leaving many questions unanswered. An inscription might tell us something about the origins of the book and, maybe, something about the people who owned it. Sometimes books have receipts or notes tucked between the pages that shed some light on the book's mysterious past and spark our curiosity.

The book I'm currently reading bears an inscription on the title page that reads "Happy 18th, Pal of Mine", signed simply "B." and dated "6/23/91". We see that this book, published in 1991, was apparently purchased as a birthday present for someone who is probably a fan of James Bond. But who was the recipient of this gift and what was his/her relationship to "B."? A clue as to that person's identity might be found on the Delta Air boarding pass stub found tucked into the middle of the book. Is the name on the ticket the name of the birthday girl? Or is it a later owner of the book? Either way, it seems this book is well traveled, as the ticket is for a flight from Dallas/Forth Worth to Mexico City. But how did it get from there to the Arlington County Library's fund raising sale in Virginia, where I acquired it?

Unfortunately, these clues seldom yield a complete picture. Instead they remind us that the book had a past, and give us just enough information to speculate about the details. When I find a book that provides hints about its past life, I like to include the clues in a journal entry when I register it. That way its adventures as a BookCrossing book can be a continuation of its earlier life, and we can all speculate about its life before BookCrossing.

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