Things I can’t get enough of include yarn and books. I especially love used books, and even more especially love cheap used books found at Goodwill or other secondhand stores. What I like most about this is that they are not often pristine–they may be filled with notations, doodles, sticky notes or bookmarks. These remnants of another’s life, evidence of an impulse to record something important, allows me to fill my mind with a story about the person who left his or her mark.

From slightly creepy to amusing to heartwarming, here are a few of my favorites:


Backstory: While waiting for my husband who was shopping for office supplies, my son and I waited at Half Price Books. While he checked out the books of cocktail recipes, I wandered to the self-help section to see if they had anything on nurturing creativity (I once found Twyla Tharp’s wonderful book in this section). Instead I found the usual suspects including this one by Wayne Dyer (photo above). I was delighted to find a page marked with a sticky note and, even better, highlighted areas on these pages. These words of wisdom were not new to me, but let’s just say this serendipitous reminder came at a good time. I hope the person who made these marks found these words to be just what they needed at a particular time in their life.

Backstory: I’m pretty sure this was found at Goodwill, though judging by its condition, it might have been on top of a trash heap, and I grabbed it. Someone else’s trash is a treasure trove for me. (I once rummaged through the garbage behind a church in the Czech Republic thinking they would have something interesting, but that’s another story.) So, OK, the marks in this book go from childlike to borderline creepy. I think this old cookbook (published 1953) became a handy notepad for family members in the 60s and 70s. Some gems:

  • Police Dept. – Attorney Commissioner Nickles – Don’t want Nickles hands tied – Eldon – Policy – Pressure on board – Vote comes up in Nov.  I think someone could make a fabulous story out of these cryptic clues. These notes were found on the same page as a handwritten remedy for foot blisters.
  • The picture on the right contains a plea of some kind. Is this person asking for help? Asking for care? Practicing their handwriting? We will never know, but again: there’s a story here.
  • On a page facing pickle recipes, but covering a recipe for hot chili sauce, I find: “Pass Word ARIA.” An arrow drawn with a ballpoint pen and a heavy hand points to this tantalizing piece of information. Call in the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. I’m stumped.


Finally, the heartwarming: I come from a family of readers, so we had many, many books to go through and decide whether or not to keep or donate when my mother died. Among the keepers:  A book belonging to my grandmother (mom’s mom)–“Proverbs, Maxims and Phrases of All Ages” (copyright 1888). I find two pages marked with my father’s business cards from the time he was employed by the Alexander Hamilton Institute, Inc (sometime during the 1940s). One marked a page with quotes about matrimony, and someone’s handwriting (my father’s? my mother’s? my grandmother’s? ) directs us to No. 56: “He who would have a daughter to win/With the mother must begin.” Since this was inside his future mother-in-law’s book, was this a message to him from her or vice versa? The other business card is between pages of quotes on “Lover” and “Loveliness.” There is no indication which quote (if any) is meaningful on these two pages. We do know he wrote some beautiful love letters to my mother during their courtship, and my mother wrote to him as well. Could this book have served as a source of inspiration for some of the words they shared? We can only speculate. I do know my sisters and I very much enjoy connections to our parents and grandparents through this and other handwritten notations in books, cards and letters.

If marks in a book can be the thread that connects us to people and lives from our past, let’s mark up our books in meaningful ways! Who knows what puzzling pleasure we might bring to future family members or nosy book hunters like myself. Grab a book, grab a pen and make a mystery!

From the dedication in “Proverbs, Maxims and Phrases of All Ages:”

“…jewels five words long/That on the stretch’d forefinger of all Time/Sparkle forever.” – Tennyson

Thanks for reading. I hope you will take a moment to follow me on Facebook (Storyline Creations), Twitter (storylinecreate), Tumblr and Instagram (retired writer).



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