The Mysteries of a Second Hand Book.

Do you ever walk into a second hand book shop and discover a novel with limp brown stained pages, squished into awkward angles due to damp; maybe from a spilled cup of coffee or an over enthusiastic splash from the pool, and wonder curiously where it has come from?
I do, sometimes.

second hand books

A few months ago I was wandering around my favourite second hand book shop with a friend and came across a copy of The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett. I read some of it when I was younger and found it engrossing, but remembered regretfully that 10/11 year old me had returned it to the library before I could finish it (I don’t think I realised you could renew books back then).

So as I usually do when I am interested in a book, I picked it up inspecting it (quite battered) tested the weight of it in my hand (heavy, hardback) read the blurb (intriguing) and flicked through the pages getting a nice whiff of book mustyness (MMMMMMM :P) when I saw something odd.
Bright colours caught my eye, so I flicked back through the pages to see what it was. It seemed to be a photograph, but inspecting it closer I realised it was more like a postcard, the edges so worn they had become rounded and cracks so embedded that they looked like part of the design. The picture was of a book store and had an address along with a distinctive logo showing a decorative letter ‘P’ in the corner. Turning it over in my hands led to more mysteries still, there were no markings on the back at all like you would get with a normal postcard, so perhaps it was just a curious piece of advertising you sometimes get in bookshops?

Beyond curious in that way that only a bookworm with a fascination for the past and a good mystery could be, I purchased the book so I could investigate further.
Terry Pratchett

After some hardcore research Googling I discovered the shop’s name had changes slightly from when the postcard was made, to Prospero’s Bookstore & Caliban’s Coffeehouse (click name for website) to incorporate more of the characters from Shakespeare’s work The Tempest. Even so, it wasn’t too hard to trace due to the easily recognisable logo!

Turns out the postcard/memorabilia thingy (what an eloquent name) comes all the way from the capital of Tbilisi, Georgia! 🙂 That’s the Georgia formerly part of the Soviet Union as opposed to the USA Georgia. It would take me somewhere between 8-12 and a half hours to get there from little old England, this postcard has had quite a journey, and possibly the book as well.

It makes me wonder about the story behind it. How did it get here? Why was it left forgotten in the book? Why specifically was it nestled between page 174-175?
I love the idea that a book can have more than one story, the one the author has consciously crafted for the reader, and the other the physical story of the book itself, the hands it has passed through, the literary thumb prints that have been left on it.

In my attempt to come up with a little story, I imagined a 21 year old female who had just come out of a long term turbulent relationship that ended badly:

Feeling the need for change she heads to Georgia’s main airport deciding she wanted to see more of the world. On her way she stops at Prospero’s Bookstore & Caliban’s Coffeehouse looking for a book to take with her on the flight. While in there she notices a postcard and picks it up on a whim with the thought that even though she has broken up with her boyfriend, she may write letting him know she has left the country. She decides she will go to England and makes her way through airport security. Her flight is delayed and she wishes she had bought a book at Prospero’s after all.
Along from her she see’s a family leave for their flight, forgetting to take the book they were reading to their children. She calls after them but they are too far away. Curious, she picks up the book by Terry Pratchett and starts reading. On the flight she mulls over what to write to her ex-boyfriend, but she cannot put anything into words so she continues reading to page 174 and bookmarks it with her postcard. She notices a crying child upset by the turbulence. She consoles him and offers the child the book to distract him. The child takes it for the rest of the flight. The book ends up on the child’s bookshelf where he soon forgets about it because reading is ‘uncool’. Eventually, his mother donates it to a second hand bookshop where an unsuspecting blogger picks it up months later.

Of course, the real story is probably just that someone used it as a bookmark, didn’t enjoy the read and gave up at page 174 giving it away without a moments thought for either. But that’s much less interesting, isn’t it? 😛

Have you ever found something random in a second hand book?
How do you think the mysterious postcard ended up in a Terry Pratchett novel in England? Why not make up a story, I would love to hear what you come up with! 😀


P.S. My friend over at Books on the Tube also blogged recently about an unusual second hand book which you should definitely check out!

P.P.S. On the 20th of June (tomorrow) The Book Depository who offer worldwide delivery (free) are doing a massive sale of ‘100 books and 100 offers’ which supposedly boasts a new deal every 15 minutes!!! It sounds amazing, for any bookworm it’s definitely worth checking out! More details here.

Image Sources:
All my own, please do not reuse.

37 thoughts on “The Mysteries of a Second Hand Book.

  1. That’s a great story. 🙂 I owned a second hand book which had an unsent postcard of Apollo 17 astronauts – no clue how it got there, it had no context in the book it was in.

    One of my James Bond books – Thunderball – came from Madrid library. It has an odd letter from the female main character to James Bond nestled between pages 102 – 103. The letter mentions a conversation between the woman and Bond – that takes place on pages 102-103. It’s a bit freaky.

    • Thanks Tony, maybe postcards are a more common object to find in second hand books then, in the scale of weird things to find!

      Wow, how cool. That is very odd, I wonder what the story behind that one is! I think after this I may be tempted to buy more second hand books rather than new ones to see if I find any other curious things. 🙂

    • Hahaa fair. 😛

      Oooh, I watch a series called Haven which is supposedly based (probably loosely) around The Colorado Kid. I’d forgotten about that until now, I might have to check that book out.

  2. That was awesome! Much more well travelled than the book I wrote about (as far as I know….) It must have been exciting to come across a real mystery that required hardcore research 😉

    In answer to your question I was reading Catching Fire the other day when what should fall out but a wedding invitation! This wasn’t quite as exciting as it could be because I knew the person who’d been invited (she’d borrowed my book and obviously forgotten about her bookmark) but it was a very attractive invitation indeed and when I next see her I’ll have to remember to give it back to her in case she’s as dedicated as I am to scrapbooking every inch of her life. Something tells me that she is not.

    Thanks for the link to my post btw! And the heads up about the Book Depository sale.

    • Hahaa I’m glad you liked it! Hmmm well you never know, a penguin book like yours could have been all over the place but just with no way to trace it! Hahaa hardcore indeed, I felt just like Sherlock. 😛

      A wedding invitation, wow, I would have never thought of that one, if it wasn’t your friends that would have been a real mystery! It’s so funny to see what people grab for first to use as a bookmark. I always tend to use the same one (its magnetic so it doesn’t ever crease pages or fall out, lol) but I would never think to use a wedding invitation. Ohh I love scrapbooking things too! It’s great to look back at memories.

      No problem! It seemed to fit. I’m looking at the sale now, it’s so fun watching how quickly or slowly the books sell out depending on their popularity, I have a feeling I might be staring at their website all night. 😀

      • It could have been but I’ll never know!

        I think it’s just as well it was my friend’s otherwise I might have been tempted to get a bit stalkerish and find out who those people were and it could all have got a bit weird… I don’t often use a bookmark because I’ve lost too many. The last time I used one it was my payslip which I suddenly realised that if I were to drop that somewhere it might be really bad so then I had to stop!

        I had the sale on at work all day in the background but I went to an event last night so I couldn’t watch it 😦 I’ve managed to find two things I wanted to buy though, have you got any great bargains? It is funny watching what’s popular, I like trying to guess what’s going to sell out 🙂

      • Hahaaa don’t worry I would have done the exact same thing as you! I guess you’re right, it could seem creepy going round investigating someone’s wedding. Just think, if it was a recent wedding that hadn’t actually happened yet you could turn up because you’d have the invitation. Now that WOULD be creepy, LOL! 😛

        Haha yeah I could see how that might get problematic. See, that’s why you use a magnet one, they’re hard to loose! 🙂 They are the best bookmarks I’ve ever found because I carry my books everywhere and so the bookmarks would always fall and I would lose my place, so annoying!

        No unfortunately I didn’t end up buying anything, I was out most of the day and then had to do things when I got back so I missed quite a bit of it, but did still watch it for about 4/5 hours straight in the evening. So much fun. 😀

  3. Such a good blog post! Damn, you shouldn’t have told me about the Book Depository sale, I’ve just spent loads of money on eBay for no apparent reason. I think I have a problem.

    I often wonder about this stuff with older books. Recently I’ve been getting into the old Penguin Books from 1950’s/1960’s and I love the yellowing pages and musty smell. You can’t help but think ‘I wonder where you’ve been, how many people have owned you before this, how many times you’ve been read, if people liked the story’ etc. In one of my old Penguin Books somebody has written their name on the inside of the cover and it immediately makes me think about the previous owners. Books can lead such fascinating lives!

    • Thank you Charl! 😀 Hahaa ohh I love ebay, I’ve had a few buying spree’s on there myself, it’s so easy to get caught up with the bidding. Well you know, you can never had too many books. 😉

      Yeah I’ve noticed your preference for the penguin books, I have to say your love of them has had a bad impression on me. I’ve been volunteering in a bookshop and they have a whole section dedicated to those books, and each time I go in I get more tempted! They look so wonderful, I totally agree with you. They definitely have their own little story to tell. 🙂 I wish books could talk, ohh the stories they would tell!

  4. I love secondhand bookshops, but no, unfortunately I can’t recall finding something like that in a book. I do love finding books with someone’s name on the inside pages and the date they received or bought the book. And yes, old paperbacks smell scrumptious.

    • Awwh, I’m sure there’s still plenty of time to find something random, and the more second hand books you buy, the more likely you are to find something. 😉 Oooh, I’ve found a few with names in but never with dates in, that’s pretty cool.
      Haha you bet. 🙂

  5. Love the story! The best things I find are usually bookmarks. My favorite has a personal picture in it of a guy with headphones, his mouth open in a big old cheesy smile. It makes me laugh every time I see it. I also once found a really good sketch drawing of a frog 🙂

    • Now wayyyyy, really?!?!!! That would make a whole lotta sense. No wonder I’m so weird, LOL! I’ve never heard of that before, although I did read that explanation that started trending a while back about what book must is, that was interesting. 🙂

  6. Oooh, this was such a fun post!! I would have been totally curious too. However, I must admit that I’m not as much of a fan of secondhand bookstores because I would just cry if I saw books all worn, torn, and stained. I am obsessive about my books, and they have to be in pristine condition. I get totally upset if a cover gets bent. I know, I’m crazy LOL!

    • Thanks Cindy, I’m glad you had fun reading it, I had a lot of fun writing it too!

      On the contrary, it’s not at all weird to me, I am exactly the same 98% of the time! Unless it is a very good deal, in amazing condition or has an old fashioned cover (for some reason an old themed book is somehow acceptable to be battered in my brain) I will rarely buy it. Occasionally I come across a book that just look good worn….like it was meant to have lived….somehow, lol, and those are the rare times when I pick them up. If that makes any kind of sense, probably doesn’t. 😛 But mostly I just love browsing. 🙂

      I’m rereading Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick at the moment, have you ever read any of her series? 😀

      • Now I’m going to have to start quoting you :). I just loved when you said “like it was meant to have lived”. That’s so awesome, and I totally get that!

        I have the Hush Hush series on my ebook reader, but I have not read it yet. It’s another one of those series that I really want to read, but like you my TBR pile just never stops growing LOL!

      • Oooh, I just remembered the best thing, no actually things, that I ever found in a book. I haven’t thought of this in years, but I actually left it just the way I found it. My mom passed down some old books to me that belonged to her father. One of them is a very old geology book, and pressed between many of the pages are four leaf clovers. Now how cool is that?

      • Heheee, yay I’m not totally insane! Wasn’t sure if it was making any kind of sense or not. 😛

        Wow they must have been on there for quite a long time now because they were big a few years back, I have a lot of books like that on my bookshelf lol, that I’ve had for years but just haven’t picked up because something more shiny or new came along! I didn’t like the first book very much but the second was awesome. Still, I’m really enjoying rereading it at the moment so maybe I will feel differently about it this time!

        I left my postcard where it was too. When I took it out for this post I made sure to mark the page so I could put it back right where I found it. 🙂 A four leaf clover, wow that’s amazing! I’ve never found one and it’s so nice that it belonged to someone in your family!

  7. Oh my, oh my! THAT’S SO EXCITING! Like discovering a personal treasure! Second-hand bookstores and antique stores totally rock! It’s also the same reason why I love flea-markets. You never know what you’re going to find. I also love reading the personal messages people sometimes write when they give someone a book to read. I always seem to find second-hand books with messages in them. It feels like I’m a witness to a private, intimate conversation. So cool 🙂
    Sorry I can’t come up with a story, my brain is ready to explode with all the possible theories of how that postcard got there. Theories that may or may not include communists, aliens or secret agents… #justsaying 😀

    • Hehee it was!!! It really was, I was nerding all over the place. 😀
      I’m not sure if I’ve ever been to a flea market… I’m not sure what one is but I’ve been in a lot of second hand book shops.
      Oooh that’s so awesome! I’ve never found a message in a book, I think I would find that even more exciting because it is so much more personal and you would get more insight into the type of person reading or giving the book. 🙂

      Hahaa no worries! You know that’s funny, I was thinking of doing one that involved aliens too. 😛 You could have all sorts of fun with that.

  8. I like the story you came up with! 🙂 I’m envious actually. I would love to go into a used bookstore, but I’ve never seen one around here! Hopefully some day. It’d be nice to uncover some gems between the yellowing pages.

    • Thanks Zen, that means a lot coming from a published writer. 😉 Ohhh no how disastrous for a bookworm! Maybe next time you book a holiday you’ll have to research a place that has lots of second hand bookshops near it!
      Yellowing pages…..mmmmmm. 😀

  9. I like to imagine where books have come from as well. I also like when my books become worn, because then they look well loved. (I know a lot of people like to keep their books in pristine condition, but that just bothers me. I mean, I try not to rip them up or drop them in the bathtub or anything, but I want them to look like they have been appreciated…) Sometimes, when I sell books to secondhand bookstores, I like to go back at a later date and see my book on the shelf, and wonder where it will end up next.

    • Haha yeah I’m one of those people with mostly pristine books and only a few random worn ones. I used to be crazy ocd about it but I’m more relaxed now, I tell myself at least if I ever have to sell them I can get more money for them. 😛 I get exactly what you mean about books looking appreciated, I’ve actually been thinking about that a lot lately. They do look more loved when they are battered and yet somehow I can’t stand to make them battered, it’s a little weird.

      Oooh I love the idea of doing that! I’d never thought of it that way round before. 🙂

  10. There is a beautiful old book store in my city, with creaking floors and book shelves so high you can barely read the titles of the top shelf books, it holds over 1 million books, and I once found an old math text book from the 1800’s
    with the students notes written on the pages.

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