The secrets held in books aren’t always the work of their authors. Christine Schoefer has this Perspective.
I grew up in a family of book lovers. My elders’ homes were filled with works of fiction, poetry, philosophy, history and art. Rows of leather and cloth bound volumes were shelved all the way to the ceiling; the mysterious gold and black symbols imprinted onto the book spines mesmerized me long before I could decipher them. My relatives had not read all the works they collected. They simply loved living in their presence. The books were a reservoir of knowledge, a network of friends, a collection of magic carpets offering escapes to unfamiliar destinations.
When my elders got old, I helped sort through their libraries. Being a book lover myself, I couldn’t just toss the cherished volumes into a box. I leafed through them and discovered that most had an interior life. They contained photos, newspaper clippings, postcards and folded up letters. Some volumes had money tucked into their pages, in one case it was a bill of a no longer valid currency.
An obscure taxidermy text made a good hiding place for a steamy love note penned on crinkly onion skin paper. Hand-written inscriptions pointed to friendships and work relationships; they expressed gratitude and good will. Then there were the marginalia – learned commentary, harsh disagreement, question marks and exclamation marks of astonishment. My mother-in-law reproached herself next to the dialogue of a Shakespeare play, in bold cursive: Should have read this when I was young! Smiling, I nodded.
Unwittingly, I followed in my elders’ footsteps: the books on my own shelves hold traces of my life tucked among their pages. My now-grown daughter told me how enchanted she was as a child when she opened a thick art book of mine and dried flower blossoms drifted into her lap.