Friday, January 11, 2013

A Life in Books

Last week a man came down with about 8 boxes of books. As my colleague and I pored over them, the boxes quickly began to tell a story. All of the books, boxes and boxes of books were clearly one person's collection. There were classics of world literature and gobs and gobs of politics, history and cultural studies, mostly leftist, with copious amounts of highlighting inside. Every book had been read all the way through: possibly twice as there were two colors of highlighting in many of them. We don't buy books with highlighting so we unfortunately passed on many of them. But it was fascinating to see a whole life through someone's books, someone who obviously cared deeply about reading to be bothered to actually read this many, and on top of that to put together a picture of the person behind the highlighter through the bookmarks therein. A "progressive book-of-the-month club" membership receipt, a residuals invoice from NBC from acting in two episodes of a television show, and all the Booksmith bookmarks. Booksmith bookmarks going back decades. A devoted and loyal shopper, I only found one bookmark from another book store, Harvard in the 90s, another independent.

The man who brought the books in brought them in haphazard boxes, falling apart. He didn't seem to care too much about the money he got for them. A quick Google search revealed that the original owner of the books had passed away. In the last box of books, I found a Dover Thrift Edition of Brothers Karamazov. It was highlighted until about a third of the way through and then it stopped. Had he read it before? Was it the last book he started? Did he give up, opting for some non-fiction instead? This guy read more than I did and it is basically my job. It was heartbreaking and fascinating to see so laid bare the life of a reader. This few hours of work in my week led me to hope his friends and family are recovering from their grief. I'm sure they all miss long, deep conversations about books and politics. And it made me grateful for all of our lifelong, super-loyal, white-hot-bright customers. Thanks for reading.

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