Tag Archives: things

Material history between the pages.

One thing I love about used books is that their physical selves, regardless of the subject or literary content or the reason I want them, have history. I’m always pleased if I find even the name of a person (or a library) and possibly an inscription, giving evidence of its life before coming into my possession. I have discovered a few other little items, like a theater ticket or a clipped newspaper review of the book . But no money, or bacon, and no love letters.

Pippin just sent me this picture of a tortilla that was found in a library book; it looks like the tortilla came with salsa and cheese, too. She remembered an article I’d passed on years ago from the Abe Books Community page: “Things Found in Books.” I thought I’d blogged on this subject, but I can’t find that I did. So I’m passing on that link, plus this one:

From Atlas Obscura: “Best Things Found Between the Pages of Old Books,” including the story of a woman who found a small negative in a book she bought at a used bookstore, developed it, and found it was a photo of her as a child.

You can probably find more such lists online, and maybe have already. I’d be more interested in things that you, my own readers, have found in books, even if it’s only inscriptions. Let me know in the comments, and possibly I will write an update post.

Things that have no true existence.

St. John the Forerunner

“The sweet work of repentance
that is set before us as followers of Christ,
is nothing other than the return to reality.”

“How we feel about many things has this same make-believe quality. We find certain styles of clothing and certain products (cars, houses, etc.) attractive and desirable, but often with little more than subjective reasons for our desires. The power of this make-believe is so great that it is well-known that many people “go shopping” to battle depression. It is a strange therapy.”

Read the rest of the article by Father Stephen Freeman here: “The Unreal Land” — about the real cause of so much of our grief and misery in everyday life, “a ceaseless struggle with things that have no true existence.”

When I look around his blog I always find plenty to provoke my thoughts in a good direction. His book Everywhere Present puts a lot of this food for the soul together in one nourishing bowl.

(re-post from 2011)

Love of things dented and dropped.

Another poem about things. This poet exults in the intimacy of humans with their things, walking on them, dropping them, nearly wearing them out — but to him, all that improves their appearance and even makes the things happy.

Since first publishing this poem, I have been prompted by Jody’s comment to add the photograph below, from Elizabeth Goudge’s beloved Wells Cathedral, completed before 1500, the steps to its chapter house since that time well “trodden by many feet and ground down.”


Of all works I prefer
Those used and worn.
Copper vessels with dents and with flattened rims
Knives and forks whose wooden handles
Many hands have grooved: such shapes
Seemed the noblest to me. So too the flagstones around
Old houses, trodden by many feet and ground down,
With clumps of grass in the cracks, these too
Are happy works.

Absorbed into the use of many
Frequently changed, they improve their appearance, growing enjoyable
Because often enjoyed.
Even the remnants of broken sculptures
With lopped-off hands I love. They also
Lived with me. If they were dropped at least they must have been carried.
If men knocked them over they cannot have stood too high up.
Buildings half dilapidated
Revert to the look of buildings not yet completed
Generously designed: their fine proportions
Can already be guessed; yet they still make demands
On our understanding. At the same time
They have served already, indeed have been left behind. All this
Makes me glad.

-Bertolt Brecht

Wells Cathedral, Chapter House stairs – photo by Pippin

Blind and so mysteriously secret.

I ran across two poems about things and our relationship to them. In this first one the poet might be merely looking around the room to notice a few common items. I used to do that when I wanted to write a letter to a friend or parent, to help me get started. I would mentally extract one thing at a time from the clutter spread all around the kitchen and family room, and ramble on paper about the everyday doings of our tribe. What books was everyone reading? Was there bread rising in a big bowl? Maybe some tools had been left out after a repair job. There was always so much stuff that my method produced a broad glimpse into our family life.

But I never waxed philosophical about the things themselves, the way Borges does. He gives us an elegant and thoughtful view of some of his belongings, with a kind of reverence:


My walking-stick, small change, key-ring,
The docile lock and the belated
Notes my few days left will grant
No time to read, the cards, the table,
A book, in its pages, that pressed
Violet, the leavings of an afternoon
Doubtless unforgettable, forgotten,
The reddened mirror facing to the west
Where burns illusory dawn. Many things,
Files, sills, atlases, wine-glasses, nails,
Which serve us, like unspeaking slaves,
So blind and so mysteriously secret!
They’ll long outlast our oblivion;
And never know that we are gone.

-Jorge Luis Borges