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Books and Memories

Books have a funny way of capturing memories. We leave receipts, to-do lists, and tickets between the pages. We write our names in them. We scrawl notes in the margins and highlight our favorite passages. Often, browsing our bookshelves becomes an exercise in nostalgia, and we find ourselves remembering people and places we might have forgotten, but our books remembered for us. Maybe this is why people can be so sentimental when it comes to their books.

I’ve left some interesting things in my own books over the years. Every election season, I leave an “I voted” sticker on the title page of the book I read in the voting line. My favorite book, James Michener’s The Source, still has a red ribbon tucked between its pages – my bookmark from the first time I read it eight years ago. More recently, I attended Adam Jones’ author event for Fate Ball at Flyleaf Books. When he found out I worked with his publisher, he wrote “Wisdom House Rocks!” above his signature.

The odds and ends we leave in our books might have meaning for us, but would baffle another reader. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of finding another person’s mementos in books. We’ve discovered handwritten dedications in books we bought secondhand, or the names of previous owners. I once found a book filled with pressed four-leaf clovers. Another time, I opened an old copy of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and a child’s school portrait fell out. The romantic in me hopes this wasn’t an accident, and that child really did grow up to be an artist.

Say whatever you want about the relative benefits of e-readers, and there are many, but Kindles don’t record our lives in the same way. Many people romanticize books, and I suppose I’m doing the same here. That said, I really think books have power as material objects. They have a physical presence in our world, so it’s not surprising that they pick up little pieces of our lives. Then they pass these pieces on to others, adding new stories to the ones printed on their pages.

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